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Distributed for Reaktion Books


The Making of a Medical Icon

Distributed for Reaktion Books


The Making of a Medical Icon

A surprising investigation of a scientific instrument long at the pulse of medicine.
This book explores the colorful past, present, and future of an instrument that is, quite literally, close to our hearts. The stethoscope has become the symbol of medicine itself—how did this come to be? What makes the stethoscope such a familiar yet charismatic object? Drawing from a range of fields including history, anthropology, science, technology, and sound studies, the book illustrates the variety of roles the stethoscope has played over time. It shows that the stethoscope is not, and has never been, a single entity. It is used to a variety of ends, serves several purposes, and is open to many interpretations. This variability is the key to the stethoscope’s enduring presence in the medical and popular imagination.

224 pages | 54 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

History: General History


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"It listens to what your body says, so let’s hear it for the stethoscope. A vital device for healthcare professionals, [this] one instrument has come to be a recognized as a symbol of medicine itself."

Sunday Post

"A unique and impressively informative history of a universally recognized medical instrument and symbol, Stethoscope: The Making of a Medical Icon is an exceptional study and unreservedly recommended."

Midwest Book Review

“This is a riveting, supremely readable cultural history of a crucial piece of medical equipment that was originally dismissed as a ‘newfangled and ridiculous plaything.’ It abounds with rich, lesser-known language (pectriloquism, placental souffle, borborygmi – the last a term for gurgling noises in the gut). Most of all, it’s a passionate manifesto for the art and labor of listening itself, the importance of touch and smell, the enduring need—in an era when remote and digital approaches to healthcare are constantly talked up—for doctors to value their work as an ongoing practice in (and of) proximity, intimacy, connection.”

Sukhdev Sandhu, Director of the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture, New York University

“An object lesson in the importance in thinking with things, this tightly written volume reveals the contradictory and enduring value of the stethoscope: a device that trains healthcare providers to listen carefully to their patients’ most intimate interiors while simultaneously helping to keep them quite literally at arm’s length. Sparkling with ethnographic and historical insights, Stethoscope is a fresh and timely exegesis of this most familiar metonym of modern medicine.”

Jeremy A. Greene, William H. Welch Professor of Medicine and the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

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