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Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America

Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America

Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America
By David Serlin

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Book Description

After World War II, the United States underwent a massive cultural transformation that was vividly realized in the development and widespread use of new medical technologies. Plastic surgery, wonder drugs, artificial organs, and prosthetics inspired Americans to believe in a new age of modern medical miracles. The nationalistic pride that flourished in postwar society, meanwhile, encouraged many Americans to put tremendous faith in the power of medicine to rehabilitate and otherwise transform the lives and bodies of the disabled and those considered abnormal. Replaceable You revisits this heady era in American history to consider how these medical technologies and procedures were used to advance the politics of conformity during the 1950s.

Book Details

  • Amazon Sales Rank: #788888 in Books
  • Brand: David Serlin
  • Published on: 2004-06-15
  • Released on: 2004-06-15
  • Ingredients: Example Ingredients
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 8.00" h x .90" w x 5.25" l, .73 pounds
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 232 pages

Features

  • Replaceable You Engineering the Body in Postwar America

Editorial Reviews

Review
"David Serlin gives nuance to the 1940s and 50s in this book about modern medicine and social change and perception." -- Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal vol. 1, no. 4 (2005)

"David Serlin's remarkable book illuminates the culture of postwar America by investigating intersections of race, class, gender, medicine, and technology." -- Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 79 (Winter 2005)

"In Replaceable You...Serlin relocates the American fascination with using medicine to realign the body with identity." -- Journal of the American Medical Association, October 27, 2004

"In _Replaceable You_...Serlin relocates the American fascination with using medicine to realign the body with identity." -- _Journal of the American Medical Association_, October 27, 2004

"Serlin shows the power of cultural studies at its best, informed by a careful understanding of technology and its reception." -- Technology and Culture, vol. 46, October 2005

"Serlin's book is a stimulating reflection on the cultural implications of modifications to the human body...after World War Two." -- American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 2 (April 2006)

From the Publisher
Winner of the 2005 Alan Bray Book Prize by the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the Modern Language Association.

From the Inside Flap

After World War II, the United States underwent a massive cultural transformation that was vividly realized in the development and widespread use of new medical technologies. Plastic surgery, wonder drugs, artificial organs, and prosthetics inspired Americans to believe in a new age of modern medical miracles. The nationalistic pride that flourished in postwar society, meanwhile, encouraged many Americans to put tremendous faith in the power of medicine to rehabilitate and otherwise transform the lives and bodies of the disabled and those considered abnormal. Replaceable You revisits this heady era in American history to consider how these medical technologies and procedures were used to advance the politics of conformity during the 1950s.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful.
5a fresh take on cold war culture through science
By R.I.
I really enjoyed Replaceable You. Overall, the book was an engaging, lively, and often surprising mix of insightful analysis of how medical advances had such a huge impact on the American psyche and, above all, American bodies, in the decades following WWII. It's also clear from the start that Replaceable You is, as the first review noted, by no means straight history of science, but rather cultural history at its best. The conclusions Serlin draws in his four case studies about how people (often with much societal pressure) wished to remake their identities and acted on it under various constraints were very convincing. In addition, the informative discussions which frame the specific analyses do a great job illuminating the larger context of Cold War America on issues like McCarthyism, civil rights, consumer culture, and prescribed gender roles. The author is skilled at showing how these issues intermingled--both with one another, and most importantly, within the discourse of what it meant to be "American" at the time. As William Smith says in the second review below, the result is a fresh look at the often stereotyped late 1940s and 1950s. What also made the read entertaining were the artifacts of popular and official culture the author chose to analyze in presenting his arguments. Serlin doesn't limit himself to written primary sources, but makes skillful use of photographs, advertisements, pamphlets, comics, etc., of which he conducts close readings. Taking this kind of approach, where the reader is guided by the author as they together examine documents for historical meaning, makes the book not only more accessible to any reader with a general interest in science and society or the Cold War, but also more enjoyable. To go along with the author as he looks at the intersection of patriotism and prosthetics, race and hormone therapy, the bombing of Hiroshima and plastic surgery, or gender and Americanism, is to gain a more nuanced understanding of Cold War culture--and more specifically, how as a result of social, political, and medical developments people go about making themselves both look and feel more like... themselves. Replaceable You also struck me as having a special relevance given today's obsession with the body in the popular culture, especially evident in television shows like the "The Swan," where plastic surgery is performed on women so as to make them into pageant girls. David Serlin's original book reveals not only that interest in medically changing one's body has been around for longer than we may think (and is ever increasing), but also that this interest has a distinctly American face.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
5A fascinating new look at the 1950s.
By starspangledgirl
This is an excellent, highly readable book on the cultural meanings behind and around several of the medical "miracles" of postwar America, including prosthetics, plastic surgery, hormones, and sex-change operations.
You do not have to be an academician or versed in medical knowledge to enjoy this look at how these technologies changed the way Americans viewed "the body," and how certain alterations (or lack of) had consequences to one's sexual/gender identity and even one's standing as a good American citizen. This book is perfectly balanced to provide the rigorous research a historian would require as well as the sheer fun a pop culture reader like myself seeks. (Although parts of this book have truly heartbreaking stories, there is also a lot of unintentional hilarity from the "expert" pronouncements of the 1950s medical establishment and the media treatment of individuals.)
Serlin's work is really a view of the 1950's from a unique angle--one that doesn't repeat the same old stereotypes about repressed housewives. He uses fascinating archival sources (i.e., the Hiroshima Maidens chapter includes personality profiles of the maidens by their Quaker patrons plus an appearance on the TV show "This is Your Life" where the maidens, hidden behind a screen due to their 'hideous' burned faces, are surprised with meeting the co-pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima!) and photographs to vividly recreate the 1950s milieu and mindset. The chapter on Christine Jorgenson, the first transsexual "star" is worth the price of the book alone.
As this book explores concepts such as race, gender, sexual orientation, national identity, and all their intersections, I would recommend it to readers interested in disability studies, gay/lesbian/transgender/queer studies, American-Japanese relations, the Harlem Renaissance (amazing story on cabaret singer Gladys Bentley), and of course, the history of the cold war. I'm looking forward to the author's next book!

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
5A (re)visioning of the Fifties
By William Smith
At least in my historical imagination, the 1950s tend to stand out as an extremely stereotyped decade. It reads as the triumph of the (imagined, and demographically limited) white, middle-class, suburban family of extremely confirmative values. David Serlin's Replaceable You is a fine contribution to 1950s socio-cultural studies; it subtly and meaningfully drawing out stories that focus roughly on the fifteen years from 1945 until the end of the 1950s. It fleshes out an array of interesting issues from this period which leaves the historiographical face of this period in a more complex and exciting state than popular imagination (mine included) would normally have it. Moreover, these stories provide gripping and accessible entrance points to larger issues of the era, but without forfeiting either the integrity of the personal stories nor reducing them to merely their historical context. While all the stories involve 'working' on the body in some form (from hormones to prosthetics), David Serlin manages to become neither too scientific nor too specific in his writing (he does not burden the reader with an endless technical vocabulary; instead he deftly crosses issues ranging from race, gender (masculinity, femininity, and stuff inbetween), sexuality, economic location, all the way to architecture. If nothing else and, perhaps, most importantly, David Serlin's book is accessible, readable, and, most laudably, human.

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