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HISTORY, SEX AND SYPHILIS: Famous Syphilitics and Their Private Lives by Tomasz F.  Mroczkowski, MD

HISTORY, SEX AND SYPHILIS: Famous Syphilitics and Their Private Lives

by Tomasz F. Mroczkowski, MD

518 pages
History of syphilis and private lives of famous syphilitics

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Category: Biography
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About the Book
The book is about the history of five hundred years old epidemic of syphilis which began after Christopher Columbus reached the New World. From the very beginning, this disease caused fear and consternation, due to its violent course, repulsive skin manifestations and high mortality.

Over the course of years, syphilis, became a disease of increasingly protracted, yet less dramatic course, although, as a result of an absence of effective treatment it remained incurable until the XX-th century. Many people died not only from syphilis itself, but also as a result of the side effects of the remedies applied.

People from all social classes became ill, beginning with peasants and concluding with their monarchs. Information on the subject comes mainly from biographies or stories about the latter, but such sources are not always credible. The signs and symptoms provided by these sources are frequently imprecise, and are similar to those occurring in non-venereal diseases; this could lead to pinning the label, “syphilitic,” onto persons suffering from other maladies. For the same reason many true syphilitics might not have been recognized, and could have been treated for other diseases.

The more credible accounts of syphilis and syphilitics do not appear until the middle of XIXth century, when lues began to be distinguished from other diseases. The biographies of well-known syphilitics of the later period, particularly those of artists, are more credible, and allow readers to learn about the lives of those suffering from lues. It must be added, however, that, due to the character of the disease (from the very beginning of the epidemic, syphilis was regarded as embarrassing and disgraceful for the patient), accounts are sparse and often avoided, with the aim of protecting the good name of the person described.

In chapters devoted to well-known artists who suffered from syphilis, the reader will find accounts of their ailments and the signs and symptoms that appeared in them, as well as suggestions regarding when they became infected. Author permitted himself to expand these chapters with information on the private lives of the subjects, underlining the risky behavior that most probably led to their infection. Writing about known artists suffering from syphilis, he could not avoid providing information about the works that made them famous, the more so, as, in the XIXth century, a view prevailed that it was the lues that was the source of their talent.

In addition to a history of syphilis and accounts of the lives of renowned syphilitics, in the last chapter of this book are included author’s personal recollections acquired while working with those ill with the disease, bringing attention to current problems such as change in sexual behaviors, and emphasizing the threat that a carefree attitude toward sex carries. One of the new elements changing sexual behaviors is tremendous popularity of Internet, especially porno websites, which became the primary source of sexual education which have resulted in noticeable diversification in sexual practices, some causing previously rarely seen lesions of primary syphilis.


The highly recommended book provides an insight into how syphilis affected so many lives during its 500 plus years of ravaging not only the sexually promiscuous, but also the innocent victims, be they marital partners or the children with congenital disease–syphilis of the innocent. The author, a syphilologist of note, has written extensively on sexually transmitted disease and has been on the professorial faculty of both New Orleans medical institutions, Tulane University and Louisiana State University.
- Lawrence Charles Parish, MD, MD (Hon), Clinical Professor of Dermatology and Cutaneous Biology, Sidney, Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University



About the Author
Tomasz F.  Mroczkowski, MD Tomasz F. Mroczkowski, MD, is a former Professor of Dermatology and Venereology in the Department of Dermatology, Tulane University School of Medicine, and Associate Professor of Research in the Section of Infectious Diseases, Louisiana State University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
Professor Mroczkowski is author or co-author of over 200 medical publications, including numerous book chapters on the subject of venereology, dermatology, infectious diseases, and the history of medicine. He is also author of several text books on sexually transmitted diseases, and co-editor of the recently published book, Genital and Perianal Diseases, which was nominated for an award in the category of Internal Medicine in 2014 by the British Medical Association.
During his earlier years, Dr. Mroczkowski studied music and the history of fine arts.



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