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Suffering For Science

Reason and Sacrifice in Modern America

From gruesome self-experimentation to exhausting theoretical calculations, stories abound of scientists willfully surrendering health, well-being, and personal interests for the sake of their work. What accounts for the prevalence of this coupling of knowledge and pain-and for the peculiar assumption that science requires such suffering? In this lucid and absorbing history, Rebecca M. Herzig explores the rise of an ethic of "self-sacrifice" in American science. Delving into some of the more bewildering practices of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, she describes when and how science-the supposed standard of all things judicious and disinterested-came to rely on an enthralled investigator willing to embrace toil, danger, and even lethal dismemberment. With attention to shifting racial, sexual, and transnational politics, Herzig examines the suffering scientist as a way to understand the rapid transformation of American life between the Civil War and World War I.

Suffering for Science reveals more than the passion evident in many scientific vocations; it also illuminates a nation's changing understandings of the purposes of suffering, the limits of reason, and the nature of freedom in the aftermath of slavery.

Author Information

Rebecca M. Herzig teaches in the Program in Women and Gender Studies at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.


This is a book by a gifted, mature scholar who writes with real fluency and who makes arguments thickly rooted in relevant literatures and archives that matter to audiences in science, technology, and medicine studies; American studies; and gender and race studies.
— Donna J. Haraway, History of Consciousness Department, University of California at Santa Cruz

Audience: Professional and scholarly;