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The Bends

Compressed Air in the History of Science, Diving, and Engineering

John Phillips

View Inside Price: $65.00


May 25, 1998
272 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
47 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300071252
Cloth

With the invention of compressed air in the 1840s, human divers could enter previously inaccessible deep water environments and engineers could design underwater mines and monumental bridges that had never been possible before. But a painful, sometimes fatal illness—decompression sickness, or the bends—mysteriously afflicted many of those who used compressed air. This book is a wide-ranging history of the wonders compressed air brought about and the suffering its unknown hazards inflicted. John L. Phillips explores the intertwining roles of science, technology, engineering, medicine, and politics in the invention of compressed air, the recognition and identification of decompression sickness, and the hundred-year-long process of learning to understand and treat the bends.

The book begins with an overview of the biology and chemistry of respiration and a discussion of the steam engine that could generate compressed air. Drawing on previously unpublished letters, diaries, and notes, Phillips tells the story of early uses of compressed air, first observations of decompression sickness, growing awareness of the bends during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and efforts to understand the pathophysiology of the illness. He then considers employee health and safety issues, the science of diving today, and human limits to exploring the ocean deeps. In the history of compressed air and its illnesses, Phillips finds important lessons for dealing with other diseases yet to be confronted in the modern world.

John L. Phillips, M.D., is a fellow in urologic oncology at the National Cancer Institute, NIH.

"Phillips takes an interesting socioscientific approach in this readable book. He tells the fascinating story of decompression sickness well."—Peter B. Bennett, Divers Alert Network




 

"A rich and well-written account of the social, economic, and moral factors that impact a disease generated by technologic development. . . This book is for general audiences, not just physicians. . . The author’s scholarship is impressive."—Doody’s Health Sciences Book Review Journal

"This is a one-of-a-kind book that focuses on decompression sickness, but describes its understanding, diagnosis, and prevention in the context of our understanding of science itself. It is a rich and well-written account of the social, economic, and moral factors that impact a disease generated by technological development. . . . It will have immense appeal to anyone interested in history and with scientific curiosity. . . . Five stars!"—Doody's Health Sciences Book Review Journal

"This excellent book provides a comprehensive review of the medical implications of working in a compressed air environment. . . . It should prove an unrivaled source of historical information on decompression sickness for many years to come."—JAMA

"'The bends,' as the new disease of industrial progress come to be called, is the subject of John Phillips's fascinating new book. . . . The Bends is highly recommended as a recreation, an educational exploration of a largely unfamiliar area of physiology, and a reminder of the responsibility of physicians to understand the working environments of their patients."—New England Journal of Medicine

"John Phillips has offered a new perspective of an important era of industrial development. . . . [He] has presented his subject in a manner that not only addresses the technical issues but also illustrates the very slow development of social responsibility for those who died or became crippled because they were exposed to an unnatural hazard when building the city's infrastructure."—David H. Elliott, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

"[A] highly readable history. . . . A book such as this is both educational and entertaining."—Paul D. Blanc, The Lancet

"Not only a scholarly look at decompression sickness but also a delightful romp through the history of science. The book is a rich lode of scientific history."—Eric P. Kindwall, M.D., Medical College of Wisconsin

"Philips assembles a wide array of information and anecdotes to explain the biology and chemistry of respiration and early attempts at diving. . . . Packed with interesting details and stories."—Choice

"[A] fascinating new book. . . . The Bends is highly recommended as a recreation, an educational exploration of a largely unfamiliar area of physiology, and a reminder of the responsibility of physicians to understand the working environments of their patients."—Andrew Dutka, New England Journal of Medicine

"John Phillips has packed a great deal of information from a wide range of sources into this history of compressed air."—James Vorosmarti, Nature


"I highly recommend this book for anyone wishing to learn more about the history of diving, compressed air, and decompression sickness, as well as to those who are interested in the history of science or medicine."—Kenneth W. Kizer, Wilderness and Environmental Medicine

 

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