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Replaceable You

Engineering the Body in Postwar America

After World War II, the United States underwent a massive cultural transformation that was vividly realized in the development and widespread use of new medical technologies. Plastic surgery, wonder drugs, artificial organs, and prosthetics inspired Americans to believe in a new age of modern medical miracles. The nationalistic pride that flourished in postwar society, meanwhile, encouraged many Americans to put tremendous faith in the power of medicine to rehabilitate and otherwise transform the lives and bodies of the disabled and those considered abnormal. Replaceable You revisits this heady era in American history to consider how these medical technologies and procedures were used to advance the politics of conformity during the 1950s.


"Serlin’s remarkable book illuminates the culture and politics of postwar America by investigating intersections of race, class, gender, medicine, and technology. . . . Serlin provides a thick descriptive context, effectively mobilizing an impressive array of primary sources . . . and secondary literatures on a wide range of topics, from important studies of Cold War culture, to the history of prothesis technology and scientific knowledge on hormones, and the publishing history of Ebony."

Jill Fields | Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"The essays largely succed in suggesting that postwar Americans utilized medical options for reengineering the body in ways that validated the dominant social order. This important insight is only the most ubiquitous of the many to take away from this valuable consideration of American culture."

M. L. Tina Stevens | American Historical Review

"Serlin shows the power of cultural studies at its best, informed by a careful understanding both of the technology itself and of its reception."

Edward Tenner | Technology and Culture

Replaceable You will change forever the way we think about the cultural and social fallout of World War II. David Serlin places disability and visuality together in a brilliant series of meditations on the bodies of the victims of various wars—cultural, sexual, and military—and focuses on the way those bodies were reimagined through medical and technical interventions. From amputated war veterans to female survivors of the
Hiroshima bombing to Christine Jorgensen and Andy Warhol, Serlin’s range of spectacle and depth of analysis is breathtaking and impressive.”<Lennard J. Davis, author of Enforcing Normalcy

Lennard J. Davis, author of Enforcing Normalcy

“David Serlin’s superb book shows us how we all have been transformed into thinking about our bodies as having replaceable parts. Looking at cosmetic surgery and hormone replacement as well as sex surgery and art after World War II, this book illustrates how a single moment in American history provided a turning point in our ability to imagine a radical makeover of the body. Any one up for a Botox treatment?”<Sander K. Gilman, author of Making the Body Beautiful and Creating Beauty to Cure the Soul

Sander K. Gilman, author of Making the Body Beautiful and Creating Beauty to Cur

Replaceable You is a tour de force. In case studies of prosthetics, plastic surgery, estrogen therapy, and sex reassignment, David Serlin reveals the cultural power of medical technology in post-World War II America. Rehabilitating the body stood as both symbol and procedure for creating the healthy and ‘normal’ citizenry required for postwar political challenges; at the same time, it offered new possibilities for individuals to assert ‘the truth’ of the self by reconstructing the body. Casting new light on the history of medicine, political culture, gender and sexuality, Serlin’s brilliant interpretation both surprises and disturbs.”<Kathy Peiss, author of Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture

Kathy Peiss, author of Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture

Table of Contents

Introduction: Can Humans Be Rebuilt?

1 The Other Arms Race
2 Reconstructing the Hiroshima Maidens
3 Gladys Bentley and the Cadillac of Hormones
4 Christine Jorgensen and the Cold War Closet

Epilogue: The Golden Slipper Show


Modern Language Association GL/Q Caucus: Alan Bray Memorial Book Award

Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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