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Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  4,839 ratings  ·  665 reviews
David Oshinsky chronicles the history of America's oldest hospital and in so doing also charts the rise of New York to the nation's preeminent city, the path of American medicine from butchery and quackery to a professional and scientific endeavor, and the growth of a civic institution. From its origins in 1738 as an almshouse and pesthouse, Bellevue today is a revered pub ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 20th 2016 by Doubleday
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Diane S ☔
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Bellevue is featured in many historical mysteries, as well as many fictional books on madness and insanity so I was very curious to read the real story behind this storied hospital. I also loved the way this book was laid out, in a linear fashion, after a preface that explores what will be found within, the famous people who have been patients and some who died there.

We learn about the changing faces of this hospital, a hospital that in one form or another has been active since the 18th century
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, medical
This book was 100% written by a historian, not a biographist, so temper expectations accordingly. Bellevue is a famous--some might say infamous--hospital in New York City, and when I saw my friend Melora's review, I was intrigued by the combination of NYC, medicine and general nuttiness. However, Oshinsky believes one should start at the very beginning; to wit, from the very origins of ownership on the piece of land Bellevue occupies to its more modern role in the city. Along the way he digresse ...more
The book gathers momentum; the topics covered near the end - the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s, the rape and murder of the pregnant 33-year-old pathologist Dr. Kathryn Hinnant within the walls of the hospital in 1989, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and finally the care of Dr. Craig Spencer who contracted and survived the deadly Ebola virus in 2014 - close the book with a bang. They are exciting and engagingly told and they all relate directly to the management and underlying spirit of this renowned pu ...more
Jill Hutchinson
One does not have to live in NYC to know the name Bellevue, the famous (or infamous) public hospital which began as an almshouse in 1796 and over the years, slowly morphed into a collection of buildings serving and housing the indigent and "criminally insane". Much of the bad reputation that unfortunately still sometimes clings to Bellevue was resultant from those early days when the conditions were similar to the horrors of Bedlam, London's most notorious asylum. But the Bellevue of today is th ...more
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Many Americans, even those who have never lived in New York City, have heard of Bellevue Hospital, certainly of some patients, and probably some of its doctors. Its storied history captures our imagination: it has fearlessly and insistently treated epidemics for centuries, as well as the widest range of disease in our nation’s largest city. For most of its history, Bellevue was a teaching hospital associated with two IV League medical schools, Columbia and Cornell, along with that of New York Un ...more
I found this book “Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital” absolutely fascinating. Oshinsky not only tells the sweeping detailed history of Bellevue but also the history of American medicine, nursing, public health, environmental health, medical research/ education, and public hospitals.

The author states it was one of the first hospitals starting in the 1660s. It is famous not only as a mental hospital but as one of the finest emergency and trauma cen
Nov 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
The venerable Bellevue Hospital in New York City is considered to be the flagship of public hospitals. The staff there will treat and provide exceptional care to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

Bellevue can trace its roots to the 1660’s when the Dutch West India Company established an infirmary to serve its soldiers. When the British took control of Manhattan Island, they built a permanent almshouse there in 1736. However, as the needs of the citizens grew, a larger building was const
BAM Endlessly Booked
2018 Reading Challenge: microhistory

Bellevue has always been synonymous with mental health similar to Bedlam in London, but its history is actually much more complex. From treating the tens of thousands of victims of the Spanish flu to the less than a handful of cases of Ebola, Bellevue is a top medical and research facility of America. "More than a hundred languages" are spoken in the halls of the campus the most common including Spanish as well as Haitian Creole. Bellevue saw the first outbrea
Oct 14, 2018 rated it liked it
This long and occasionally dry "microhistory" profiles Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital from its origins in the late 18th Century as an almshouse in a semi-rural location overlooking the East River, to today's battled and beleaguered complex that Mayor Bill di Blasio has assured us has a place in Manhattan's future as well as its past. Bellevue's tale unfolds best as a series of tragedies and challenges, one after the other, including smallpox, plague, typhoid, cholera, influenza, tuberculosis and ...more
Nov 15, 2018 rated it liked it
A well written and sometimes interesting history on Bellevue Hospital in NY. If I assessed the twenty chapters individually or read as a serial spanning twenty weeks, Bellevue would definitely be four star material.

However there is little flow to the book overall and the chapters do not relate to one another so I couldn't take any big themes away. My second gripe with the book is that there was little description of the hospital overall so it is hard to really place the building in my mind or a
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
David Oshinsky’s wonderful book Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital is more than a history lesson of an iconic New York City institution. It’s a chronicle of the city of New York itself. And that might not be going far enough, it’s the tale of the United States as well, all told through the events happening at the oldest public hospital in America. We have disease, war, politics and corruption, a little racism, and ultimately a group of people dedi ...more
Lewis Weinstein
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An excellent, well-researched, and entertainingly-written history of two centuries of medicine and public health in America, seen through the prism of one of our greatest hospitals. In the later chapters, I was reminded of those events to which I was a witness and which the scientists at the Public Health Research Institute were important players: the AIDS & TB epidemics and hospital-acquired infections. And I will always be haunted by the endless posters which lined First Ave in front of Bellev ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this a really satisfying look at Bellevue. It's a public hospital that is very much the indicator of our society. What its people do is laudable, incredible, & plain fantastic, although this shows plenty of warts, too. There were a lot of interesting insights into people, politics, & the state of medicine with much slipping back & forth through time. Not what I expected, but more in many ways. The only minor nitpick I had was that it took 3 or 4 mentions of Lewis Thomas before the author ...more
Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
When I read non-fiction, I usually end up reading something weird (Agent Zigzag or Grunt) or something awful (Nazi Hunters or Five Days at Memorial). It’s rare that I read a book that highlights the better angels of our nature, but that’s what I found (for the most part) in David Oshinsky’s Bellevue: A History of America’s Oldest Hospital. There are varying dates for the founding of Bellevue Hospital stretching back to the 1730s. Bellevue has been open ever since the eighteenth century and only ...more
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
To tell the story of Bellevue, America's first hospital, is to tell the story of the United States. From it's humble beginnings as a almshouse that served soldiers in the 1600's it has morphed into a world class hospital that treats the complex cases of ebola today. This book covers every major advancement of medicine from an influenza outbreak, the idea that germs could cause sickness, the formation of a nurses, pain medication, mental health advancements, the Aids epidemic, and Super Storm San ...more
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-ish
Oshinsky traces Bellevue hospital's history, from its beginnings as a “hospital for the accommodation and relief of such persons afflicted with contagious distempers” in 1795 through to its operations today, and along with the history of this specific hospital he conveys much of the story of public hospital care in America. As well as the story of Bellevue, Oshinsky tells the story of how Americans – doctors and nurses, researchers, social reformers, and others – have addressed the problems pose ...more
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Oshinsky is a great writer. One of my favorite books in the world is Worse Than Slavery. I always expect another marvel like that from him. Nothing can ever live up to it though. Still, this book had no shortage of really interesting stories (most I have already read elsewhere) about the extremely interesting history of how Bellevue has morphed over the years. Oshinsky does a great job of incorporating the various medical advances and politics maneuvers seen throughout the history of America's ( ...more
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Super interesting concept--to tell the story of a single hospital--you inevitably end up telling a lot of different stories. Most of it dragged on for me. The ending was really interesting--AIDS and Ebola, murders in the hospital, and the changing nature of NY, but some of the earlier material was a bit monotonous.
Jeanne Adamek
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating well told history of Bellevue and medicine. Maybe not an totally easy read, but definitely absorbing-- not the least bit dry. I would recommend this to anyone who loves history, has an interest in medicine, and especially those, who when they hear "Bellevue" it strikes a chord. ...more
Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, non-fiction
This book is more than just the history of Bellevue. The hospital has been around so long that it serves as a backdrop for the history of medicine in the US. The sections covering the epidemics, prohibition, AIDS, and Hurricane Sandy were fascinating. The history of the hospital itself was interesting except the few times that the author ventured into detailed reports of administration - those sections took a bit of skimming.

Highly recommend to anyone interested in New York, history, or medicin
Kimba Tichenor
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
David Oshinsky, currently a professor of history at NYU, delves into the history of the storied Bellevue Hospital in New York City -- from its origins in an almshouse established in 1736 to its response to Hurricane Sandy. He argues that the cultural narratives surrounding Bellevue, i.e. narratives of bedlam, disrepair, and even murder, have eclipsed its contribution to the medical history of this country: "The relentless focus on its eccentricities has obscured its role as our quintessential pu ...more
Carly Friedman
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best nonfiction books I've read recently! I thoroughly enjoyed this book on the hisotry of Bellevue hospital. The author did an excellent job of incorporating the wider social, cultural, technological, and economic history of the area. Each chapter discussed a specific topic and the ones on public health, forensic medicine, nursing, AIDS, and Hurricane Sandy were my favorite. This book is very informative and well-researched without being one bit dry.

Highly recommended!
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist David Oshinsky writes a comprehensive, readable history of New York City’s legendary public hospital, which along the way becomes a slice of social history of the city itself and an outline of the development of American medical practices as well. The name alone is enough to evoke imagery, associations, some realistic and some fantasy (the name being synonymous, like Bedlam, with the last stop for the very mentally ill) but the truth itself is enough to solidify ...more
Great overview of a great hospital. This is the type of public hospital to be proud of, one staffed by researchers, medical innovators, number of specialities, large numbers of patients to learn from and to treat in new experimental and then quickly standardized ways.

Long Live Bellevue so that untold numbers of people may live to fulfill their destinities.
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I call foul. Not once did this book mention the true impact of this hospital, that being the place where my friends from SVU go to see sick or mentally ill prisoners. Seriously, how did this book not mention Law and Order at least once?

Other than this major failing, it's great. It's basically a 300 year overview of medicine and hospitals in general, not just Bellevue. From yellow fever in the 1700's, the Civil War, AIDS, and the Affordable Care Act, this book covers it all.
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the best non-fiction book I have read this year. As other reviewers have noted, it's more of a history lesson set within the walls of Bellevue. Topics covered include the Civil War, Florence Nightingale, Nellie Bly, the assassination of President Lincoln, various plagues, AIDS, Superstorm Sandy, and much much more. Highly recommend this for anyone interested in history, medicine, or even just good non-fiction writing. ...more
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating look at the history of Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, from its earliest beginnings to recent years. It covers a lot of ground, examining both the changes in the science and art of caring for the sick, as well as the social issues involved in running a public hospital with a policy of taking all comers. This one is worth a read for anyone who's interested in health care issues. ...more
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
The history of Bellevue mirrors the history of health care in America. From bloodletting to insulin shock to organ transplant, this iconic hospital has welcomed patients and doctors as New York and the country grew and changed the world. Very well done.
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Over the years, I’ve heard Bellevue mentioned in television and movies. Last year, I discovered an excellent review about the history of this institution and it has been on my “To Read” list for over a year, until I found adequate time to dedicate to this work.

First and foremost, as the years have progressed, hospitals in New York City have developed into well-defined examples of private vs public and make no mistake, for all of the good it has done, Bellevue is [very much considered] a public h
Dec 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Even if you don’t live in NYC, it’s possible you’ve heard of Bellevue hospital. If not by name, then by the stories told about it. It was the facility that treated the man who had Ebola in New York, and it is the one that had to evacuate patients in plastic medical sleds down over a dozen flights of stairs during Hurricane Sandy when the building lost power. And that’s just the headlines from the last five years.

Bellevue is a public hospital, providing care mostly to those who cannot pay or who
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David M. Oshinsky is the director of the Division of Medical Humanities at NYU School of Medicine and a professor in the Department of History at New York University.

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