Pox: Genius, Madness, And Mysteries Of Syphilis
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Pox: Genius, Madness, And Mysteries Of Syphilis

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  146 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Was Beethoven experiencing syphilitic euphoria when he composed "Ode to Joy"? Did van Gogh paint "Crows Over the Wheatfield" in a fit of diseased madness right before he shot himself? Was syphilis a stowaway on Columbus's return voyage to Europe? The answers to these provocative questions are likely "yes," claims Deborah Hayden in this riveting investigation of the effects...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published January 3rd 2003 by Basic Books
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I found that this was quite an enjoyable read...At first I was a bit intimidated by the format...Introductory chapters followed up by a slew of biographical pieces...But it had me hooked till the end! One aspect of these accounts I found extremely disturbing was the cavalier spreading of the disease by some of its victims, particularly the celebrated authors. (The account of one luminary painting a false sore on his penis, showing his female companion, and then assaulting her comes to mind.)

I stumbled across this book looking for something else at the library. The premise was alluring. From the jacket blurb, it sounded like many creative famous men had syphilis and that it contributed to their genius. As it turned out, a lot of famous creative men might have had syphilis. Almost nobody owns up to having this awful venereal disease which exhibits a huge variety of symptoms as it progresses through the body. I did learn that it was real bummer of a disease before the advent of penici...more
Eric Rasmussen
This book features a terribly alluring thesis - many of the greatest artists, thinkers, and politicians of the past several hundred years found greatness because of late stage syphilis, which can cause the most divine of inspiration before plunging the victim into madness. The first part of the book details the history and biology of the disease, which I found very interesting. Then the rest presents individuals and makes a case for them having syphilis (all speculation, as great historical figu...more
I always wondered why those 19th century artists and musicians were so melancholy. Sad, sad tales of a forgotten plague. While there is some speculation involved (e.g., chapter on Hitler), the medical microbiological scholarship is sound. I read this after finding a death certificate of my grandfather's cousin, a lawyer and father of 10 children who died in the insane asylum in San Antonio of "general paresis", i.e. tertiary syphilis. A tragedy 30 years before penicillin.
Louise (A Strong Belief in Wicker)
I haven't read the whole book, but loved the very interesting chapter on Oscar Wilde. Full of rich detail, it's fascinating to ponder if Oscar really did have syphilis. And is The Picture of Dorian Grey a parable for living with the knowledge that you have a dreaded disease? Intriguing. However I do think some of her arguments are a little far fetched. I'd be interested in reading the rest of the book at some stage. I've now read the chapter on Flaubert, which is again very interesting. Flaubert...more
J Eseltine
Fascinating - interesting to consider the impact this disease has had on the history of the world; terrible suffering physically and mentally, not to mention the social stigma related to this epidemic condition.
I always associated the sickness “pox” with Small Pox until this book set me straight and I now know that “The Pox” is syphilis. There’s lots to learn from this book and in a pretty entertaining way. Quite a few misconceptions I had about this STD were corrected and the fascinating biographies were often a surprise. Who knew about Abe Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Van Gogh? It explains Nietzsche’s depressing philosophy and Hitler’s madness, and Oscar Wilde’s creativity. A good mix of history and s...more
Tina Dyer
Really well-written, if a bit paranoia-inducing. "Pox" compares the biographies of a number of notables people--including Van Gogh, Abraham & Mary Todd Lincoln, Oscar Wilde--with the symptomology of syphilis in its three stages, to alarming effect. If, as posited here, syphilis was the "disease that dare not speak its name" and infected fully 25% of the European population in the 19th century, then it is entirely possible that our whole concept of the "artistic genius" is driven by the etiol...more
Started out with promise but just degenerated into a list of why just about any historical figure had syphilis. Disappointing.
My husband didn't want me to take this book out of the house. He thought people would think I was weird if they saw me reading a book about syphilis.

This was a very interesting book that shed some light on some very interesting characters in history.
the assumed origin and world-wide migration of syphilis.
names many historical figures/world leaders/artists that are thought to have contracted syphilis, the treatments that were tried, and the lifestyles of the sick.
The biographical part is poorly written and overly speculative. The medical part at the beginning is great. Mostly just "hey did you know ____ had syphillis?" which is a good conversation starter sometimes.
Kris Waldherr
A fun romp through the history of syphilis (if such a thing is possible.Popular science at its best. Really makes you wonder how much history was affected by this most insidious of diseases.
This book was harder to get through than other books. It goes through a brief history of syphilis before brief chapters on some famous people who are confirmed or rumored syphilitics.
Jul 20, 2007 Heidi rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone not squeamish about disease
Shelves: non-fiction
My favorite piece of non-fiction. Not just for people who are fascinated by syphillis, but anyone who is interested in the creative process and what makes a "genius."
A fascinating, well-researched and very convincing account of a disastrous epidemic we've had the luxury to more-or-less forget.
Sherry Cogburn
WOW I had no idea Syphilis was so rampant and that so many prominent historical figures suffered from it. A must read.
Good front info, but then goes over historical case studies. Interesting, but without prooof it remain conjecture.
Great read, but the harrowing tales of genius/madness start to become a bit redundant toward the end.
Well written, convincing arguments about Syphilis. Also, a great meditation on the nature of genius.
Pretty good read. Who knew syphilis made you a temporary genuis and then a raving lunatic?
Jan 25, 2008 Johnny rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: disease fetishists
Turns out that every single famous genius in the history of the world had syphilis. Who knew?
fascinating, although it is near impossible to prove all of this. Fascinating.
Aaron Brown
Truly an interesting read! Say no more.
Nov 21, 2012 Tom marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: friends
borrow it from Bernadette
Hitler had the clap!
Brian marked it as to-read
Jul 24, 2014
Daniel Penfold
Daniel Penfold marked it as to-read
Jul 23, 2014
Gia marked it as to-read
Jul 22, 2014
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