The author is professor of history at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She has edited/co-edited 12 books and written seven books including Marketing Health: Smoking and the Discourse of Public Health in Britain, 1945–2000 (OUP, 2007) and Demons (OUP, 2013) and overviews of health and medicine for Cambridge and Oxford University Presses, respectively. She is a past chair of the Society for the Social History of Medicine and president of the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health.

Berridge explores the ambit of public health, and explains how the traditions of disparate countries led to ideological differences in the perception of the role and responsibilities of public health institutions. In the USA, litigation on public health issues is common, but state involvement is less, while some Scandinavian countries have state ownership of industries such as alcohol in relation to public health.

There are seven chapters; Chapter 1 attempts to define public health, which means different things to different people, to different countries with different health and social care traditions. C.E.A. Winslow’s definition in the USA, or the 1948 World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health, Acheson’s or Wanless’s 2004 ‘fully engaged’ definitions in the UK reflecting changes in the politics of public health over time, from infective disease technical solutions to wider social change in Dahlgren and Whitehead’s 1991 ‘rainbow diagram’ or McKeown’s hypothesis that economic development was more import ant than public health interventions. Chapter 2 highlights current challenges, topics, strategies, target groups, age ranges and cross-cutting issues like climate change or inequality, prevailing ideology, tactics used, location of institutions and the effects of globalization. Chapter 3 explores the historical context of public health responses to the interests of modernizing states facing population growth and urbanization. Chapter 4 charts the period of sanitation to education 1800–1900, germ theory and its diffusion. Chapter 5 examines the focus on lifestyle and behaviour over infections or polluted environments, including ‘social hygiene’ which sought to integrate social factors, prevention and curative approaches. Chapter 6 focuses on tropical and international public health, successes against smallpox, colonial period concerns like malaria, bubonic plague, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, how missionary medicine trained indigenous populations fostering rural health infrastructure with local capability. Origins of institutions like League of Nations Health Organization and WHO, their vertical and horizontal programmes with structural adjustments for HIV/AIDS and more recent epidemics are described. Chapter 7 brings these themes to a focus on the future and how public health will remain the ‘art of the possible’ keenly aware of the determinants of the present.

This is an easy but thought-provoking read for anyone wishing to understand the scope and origins of public or global health policy. It is well referenced with suggestions for further reading. The workplace as a setting for interventions or work contributions to non-communicable disease priorities of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory disorders was omitted.

This is a reasonably priced excellent sweep of how history influenced public health today. It provides insights about how occupational health might leverage itself to the topics, tactics and targeted groups of today. It does not offer prescriptions for the future, but greater understanding of the determinants of the present.


★★★✩ (Buy and keep)