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The Wages of Sin: Sex And Disease, Past And Present Paperback – 1 Jun 2002

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition (1 Jun. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226014614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226014616
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 583,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"Allen searches out the premodern origins of the prejudice against the ill that found such vehement expression in the age of AIDS.... [He] is at his most forceful and persuasive in his examination of the cultural war fought over AIDS, conjuring up a time when politicians invoked the lessons of Sodom and Gomorrah as activists staged 'die-ins' on the floor of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York." - Mathew Battles, Boston Book Review; "Ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, Western religious traditions have linked sex to suffering. Allen uses the techniques of literary criticism to trace this relationship from the medieval diagnoses of 'lovesickness' to the AIDS crisis of our own time.... [E]xhaustively searching through medical and theological texts and illustrations, [he] builds a fascinating and sometimes shocking case." - Library Journal

From the Inside Flap

Throughout history, Western culture has often viewed disease-especially those diseases associated with sex-as punishment for sin. From leprosy to AIDS, "The Wages of Sin" offers a remarkable history of this perception, and explains how these ancient views continue to shape contemporary life and public policy.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I only received this book today, and absorbed myself straight into it. Very well written and tackles subjects other authors would baulk from.

When early modern Europe was ravaged with 'The French Pox' in the 15th Century, it brought with it the same fear, prejudice and moral opinions that we saw when HIV was discovered in the 1980's.

Peter Allen's account,is drawn from very reliable resources (hence the 4 stars), and emphasises that human opinions and attitudes have not changed. However, the book does go in to great detail about the blind panic and hopelessness that victims of syphilis had to endure. Worse still, it was far better to let the disease run its course than die from the slow, agonising torture that the early modern physicians and doctors called 'treatment'. Unsympathetic physicians felt they 'deserved what they got' and the religious lobby thumped their holy books in defence of divine judgements. If you are a serious student of the history of medicine, this is a good bedside read; if you are curious as to what went on at this time, it's a great resource. Be thankful that syphilis is no longer a slow, painful, disfiguring and mind-destroying affliction.

If there is one message this book carries, it tells us that we no sooner conquer one disease, than nature conspires with fate to endow mankind with something far greater. Read it on the train/bus going to work and watch the faces of the others around you!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars 6 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and Engaging 15 May 2014
By Mark Graham - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Having come across Peter Allen several times in my research on the history of AIDS as the author of several essays, this book seemed perfect for a broader history of sex and diseases. His personal experience of losing his partner to AIDS really hit home and brought an engaging, although sometimes sad, tone to his writing.

In "The Wages of Sin" Allen sets out to educate the reader on three of the most prominent subjects in human history: disease, sex, and religion. While the three subjects are not ones you would normally knit together, Allen has created an engaging piece of work that shows how each of them impact the others and how they've each shaped our history to form the culture we have today. He focuses on issues from the late middle ages onwards, showing how opinions have changes over the years and how science and religion often clash when it comes to the subjects of disease and sex. I very much enjoyed reading about the social side of disease, sex, and religion and how people's opinions have changed (and in some cases not changed) in the past few hundred years. Through the course of the book Allen covers some almost unbelievable 'diseases' and opinions, one of which being "love could be an illness and sex a cure."

Overall, the book was incredibly insightful and filled with eye-opening facts. Allen has put a great deal of research into this book, making for an educating yet still enjoyable read. The tone he writes in is engaging, honest, and chatty, and he's structured the book so it flows easily, making for an easy read. This is definitely one of the most comprehensive books I've come across on the subject of sexual history and disease - second, more or less, to Sexuality: An Illustrated History by Sander Gilman.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sinners or Patients? 5 May 2000
By Monique Bourque - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In _The Wages of Sin_, Peter Allen has provided a broad, brilliant, and beautifully-written overview of the long and complex relationship between religious and cultural values and the definition and social perceptions of disease. Organized as a series of case studies of particular diseases--including plague, syphilis, masturbation, and AIDS--the book teaches us that Western culture has a long tradition of ambivalence in caring for the victims of diseases for which we have decided that victims' lifestyles are at least partially responsible. By casting his net widely to include masturbation, Allen has been able to discuss not just the moral components of disease diagnosis and treatment, but also the medicalization of specific behaviors. While the reader will be left with many questions about the details of the history of these diseases, Allen has given us a compelling and readable introduction to the issues underlying the current AIDS crisis. The section on AIDS is both a balanced overview of a very messy debate, and an eloquent call to action. This text is a valuable contribution to the literature on the history of medicine, and to public discussion of the moralization of disease and the effects of that process on patients.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Catholic compassion 21 Jun. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This gripping book raises far-reaching questions about what Roman Catholic teach. It fits nicely with two other books this year -- John Portmann's When Bad Things Happen to Other People and Garry Wills's Papal Sins. All three make us wonder about the state of Catholicism today and how it will it respond to such powerful criticism.
Portmann examines Bernard Haring's account of illness. Haring is the most important Catholic moral theologian of the twentieth century; the Catholic culture Lewis fleshes out culminates in Haring, whose thinking about illness was remarkably sophisticated. Even someone as modern as Haring allows a link between illness and sin. Haring gives permission to celebrate the suffering of others who have broken God's law. Both Lewis and Portmann seem to think of Judaism as generally more compassionate than Catholicism. This point could be debated.
Wills turns to the question of whether Rome has responded compassionately to gay and lesbian people. You can guess what Wills thinks, just on the basis of the title of his penetrating book. Lewis looks much more closely at sexuality and sexual sins than Wills does. Who doesn't find the topic of sexual sins worthwhile?
The three books have just come to light. Like others that have preceded them, they make us wonder how Rome will respond to serious analyses of Catholic compassion.
The Wages of Sin is part philosophy, part religious studies, part cultural studies. It is interesting through and through.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinatng and Unique View of History 20 July 2000
By Kathleen Reich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Peter Allen takes three of the most compelling aspects of human history--sex, disease, and religion--and weaves them together in a fascinating exposition of how religious authorities in the West have viewed disease since the late Middle Ages. His book discusses the histories of lovesickness, leprosy, syphilis, plague, masturbation, and of course AIDS. For each disease (and yes, masturbation was considered a serious disease well into the 20th Century!), he discusses how sex, and the sins associated with it, figured into the religious and popular views of illness. Allen's book is meticulously researched (he read texts in the original French, Latin, German, and Italian) and elegantly written. It is a far easier read than most academic works. Most importantly, it offers insight into how religious and sexual intolerance can hamper the fight against disease, even in today's world.
4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional, revealing, and intriguing 4 May 2000
By Angelique - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is by far the most intriguing and revealing story about sexuality throughout the ages. The practices Allen reveals in his well-written and humorous tales are almost unbelievable. This is an enjoyable read and exceptional education on society and sex. I recommend this book to all!
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