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Publisher's Summary

From a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian comes a riveting history of New York's iconic public hospital that charts the turbulent rise of American medicine.

Bellevue Hospital, on New York City's East Side, occupies a colorful and horrifying place in the public imagination: a den of mangled crime victims, vicious psychopaths, assorted derelicts, lunatics, and exotic-disease sufferers. In its two and a half centuries of service, there was hardly an epidemic or social catastrophe - or groundbreaking scientific advance - that did not touch Bellevue.

David Oshinsky, whose last book, Polio: An American Story, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, chronicles the history of America's oldest hospital and in so doing also charts the rise of New York to the nation's preeminent city, the path of American medicine from butchery and quackery to a professional and scientific endeavor, and the growth of a civic institution. From its origins in 1738 as an almshouse and pesthouse, Bellevue today is a revered public hospital bringing first-class care to anyone in need. With its diverse, ailing, and unprotesting patient population, the hospital was a natural laboratory for the nation's first clinical research. It treated tens of thousands of Civil War soldiers, launched the first civilian ambulance corps and the first nursing school for women, pioneered medical photography and psychiatric treatment, and spurred New York City to establish the country's first official board of health.

As medical technology advanced, "voluntary" hospitals began to seek out patients willing to pay for their care. For charity cases it was left to Bellevue to fill the void. The latter decades of the 20th century brought rampant crime, drug addiction, and homelessness to the nation's struggling cities - problems that called a public hospital's very survival into question. It took the AIDS crisis to cement Bellevue's enduring place as New York's ultimate safety net, the iconic hospital of last resort.

Lively, pause-resisting, fascinating, Bellevue is essential American history.

©2016 David Oshinsky (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"No other hospital is as embedded in our culture as Bellevue. David Oshinsky's biography of this grand dame of America's public hospitals is a page-turner, a tale of immigrants and epidemics, politicians and physicians, natural disasters and acts of terrorism, all of which shaped Bellevue, just as they shaped a city and a nation. Public policy at its best and worst comes alive. Oshinsky has captured the spirit, the resilience that is Bellevue, a quality that rubs off on the legions who have trained there. A wonderful read!" (Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone)
"Bellevue is a tale of medicine's tragedies and triumphs in the cauldron of New York City. In vivid prose, David Oshinsky portrays caregivers who, through the centuries, selflessly served the neediest and the unwanted, as well as researchers who pushed the boundaries of clinical knowledge, all the while battling bureaucrats and social indifference. This is a story of America's most esteemed public hospital that will both enlighten and inspire." (Jerome Groopman, MD, author of How Doctors Think)
"David Oshinsky's Bellevue is American history at its very finest. It's impossible to understand our nation's public health advancements without reading this authoritative retelling of New York City's storied hospital. A masterpiece of scholarship." (Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America and The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast)

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 12-14-16

Fascinating

I found this book “Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital” absolutely fascinating. Oshinsky not only tells the sweeping detailed history of Bellevue but also the history of American medicine, nursing, public health, environmental health, medical research/ education, and public hospitals.

The author states it was one of the first hospitals starting in the 1660s. It is famous not only as a mental hospital but as one of the finest emergency and trauma centers in the country. It has a long history as the leading infectious disease facility treating yellow fever, tuberculosis, AIDS to Ebola. Steven Forster died at Bellevue and Francis Ford Coppola filmed scenes of the Godfather in its morgue.

Oshinsky tells about the hospital’s role during the Civil War caring for the most Union soldiers of any hospital. The author tells of advances in medicine, nursing and ambulance service during the Civil War. Bellevue was the first hospital to have ambulance services starting after the Civil War. They also designed the first horse drawn ambulance used in the City. Through affiliations with medical schools, it became the largest teaching hospital in the country and a leading research facility. Bellevue is the leading research facility on AIDS. Bellevue treats more than 600,000 patients annually.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Oshinsky writes in a clear, concise way that is easily readable. Oshinsky is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. This is the first book I have read by Oshinsky. I am looking forward to reading more of his books. Oshinsky builds a strong case for the need of public hospitals. I highly recommend this book.

Fred Sanders does an excellent job narrating the book. Sanders is a stage actor and audiobook narrator.

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Saved my commute!!!

My commute is awful. It's not terribly long, but I dread it. Audible has helped a lot, and no book has captivated me as well as this one. Fascinating.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

More than headlines

I only ever knew of Bellevue by the news reports on TV and newspaper headlines, the rest of the story and the long history of this institution is absolutely fascinating. Bellevue has affected our daily lives in more ways than most of know. This is just a great story, even if history or medicine are not your main interests.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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A must listen for medical professionals

An intriguing and factual history of the United States first hospital. Hearing the history makes one appreciate how far medicine has come in three centuries.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Absolutely loved it, must read if you like medical history or the history of New York

This book was fascinating and reminded me why I want to go into medicine. The devotion of Bellevue's staff during crisis after crisis to the most at risk groups - the indigent poor, homosexuals, immigrants, homeless and mental ill patients - is inspiring. The author definitely covers the warts of the hospital too, but he has decidedly positive view of Bellevue's 200+ year history. The narrator had a pleasant voice, not boring but not overly dramatic either. I ended up buying a copy of the book for my mom for Mother's Day (she loves medical history too). Lastly, if you are sensitive to animal suffering, there are two chapters that may upset you; one about a scientist who drowned and poisoned dogs to determine effects on the brain and body as the coroner/medical examiner, and about Hurricane Sandy when many lab animals drowned during the flood. The author is direct though not unnecessarily graphic (the hurricane sandy portion was more manageable to me than the first) so skip those bits if you think that will bother you.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Eileen
  • Charlotte, NC, United States
  • 02-01-17

Takes you outside the hospital walls

This book tells the story of the building, its' people, it's' history and its' city in an organized and compelling manner. While listening, I was torn between wanting it to slow down because it was so enjoyable and speed up because it was so interesting. Well worth your credit and your time!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Well Written

This is an excellent book. It is not only an interesting history of Bellevue but also a captivating reflective timeline of the formative American landscape and character. This breadth added a fascinating look at the changing shape of American culture and its resulting effect on public health.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful history of Bellevue; not so great narration

This book is a great history of Bellevue, medicine and New York City. The writing is captivating and flawless, and the book is peppered with interesting anecdotes about the evolution of Bellevue and its staff. NYC's treatment of this hospital of last resort is also well covered. I bought the book in hardcover but also purchased the audible which was very disappointing. Weird hesitation in the reading. But the book is a fantastic history and highly recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Daryl
  • Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • 04-14-17

History, Society, Medicine

This is more than the story of Bellevue or of medicine. It uses Bellevue as a compelling "character" all its own, with a deep influence over medicine and societal change over the course of over 200 years.
It's well-researched, but it is not a dry read or performance. In fact, I found myself sneaking time away to read a chapter or two at a time. The hospital - and medicine itself - opened its doors to eccentric patients and physicians, cutting-edge and barbaric treatments, expensive construction and bureaucratic neglect.
If you're at all interested in New York City, history, medicine, or any combination, pick up this book!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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History of American Hospital No. 1

I love history, and I love medicine, so of course I loved this book. Using the oldest hospital in New York as the framework, this book explores the history of medicine, 17th century until today. I learned a lot from this book and loved every minute of it. The author and narrator did a great job!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful