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What kind of doctor puts his patients on display?
The true story of how a revolutionary man placed premature babies in incubators in exhibits at World’s Fairs and sideshow
Advance Praise for THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. COUNEY
“Compelling on many levels… Raffel’s arresting and illuminating work of hidden history should not be missed.” —Booklist
“Many readers will share Raffel's admiration of Couney…The book's title is no hype; this is a startling account of an improbable huckster who made his living promoting a lifesaving device.”
“With colorful descriptions of the carnival world and the medical marvels of early neonatalogy, Raffel makes a fascinating case for this unusual pioneer’s rightful place in medical history.”
THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. COUNEY
How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies
by Dawn Raffel
At the turn of the 20th century, nestled near the sideshows of Coney Island and Atlantic City and sidled next to the technological wonders of the World’s Fairs was a sight that fascinated spectators: delicate, premature infants in rows of boxes tended by a nurse. These babies, by all medical expertise at the time, should not have been alive. They were too small and too weak; some were born with deformities. However, Dr. Martin Couney had discovered how incubators and careful nursing kept these previously doomed infants alive, while at the same time make good money displaying these babies alongside sword swallowers, bearded ladies, and burlesque shows.
In THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. COUNEY: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies (Blue Rider Press Hardcover; July 31, 2018; 978-0-399-17574-9), acclaimed journalist and magazine editor Dawn Raffel explores the extraordinary tale of how a mysterious immigrant doctor became the revolutionary innovator in saving premature babies. But was he a charlatan or a good doctor?
Drawing on research from newly discovered documents, obscure reports, and interviews with some of the now elderly surviving infants, Dawn Raffel tells the marvelously eccentric story of Couney’s mysterious carnival career, his larger-than-life personality, and his unprecedented success as the savior of tiny babies. Written in prose reminiscent of Mary Roach and with fascinating research akin to Erik Larson, THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. COUNEY takes a unique perspective into American enterprise and how technological ingenuity and exuberance could be built on compassion.
About the author
Dawn Raffel is a journalist, memoirist, and short-story writer whose work has been widely anthologized. A longtime magazine editor, she helped launch O, The Oprah Magazine. She has also taught creative writing in the MFA program at Columbia University; at summer literary seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia; Montreal; and Vilnius, Lithuania; and at the Center for Fiction in New York. She now works as an independent editor and book reviewer.
More Advance Praise for THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. COUNEY
“Though Dr. Couney was more showman than doctor, he saved the babies' lives by the thousands and pioneered American neonatology. His story is richly told in a book that savors every honk of John Philip Sousa from a marching band, every salty crunch of carnival popcorn, every sparkle of a Ferris wheel turning in a night sky, and the desperate hopes of parents traveling from their lying-in hospitals by bus or subway to the carnivals, carrying their premature newborns in shoe boxes and hat boxes or inside their coats.”
—Melissa Fay Greene, two-time National Book Award finalist for
Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing
“This astonishing new book will be an instant classic of literary nonfiction—painstakingly researched and written with lyricism and irony. Dawn Raffel has pulled the curtain on one of the most remarkable rescue missions in history. Over seven thousand innocent lives saved at a time when medical science turned its treasonous back.”
—Dennis Covington, author of National Book Award finalist Salvation on Sand Mountain
“Long before modern neonatal clinics made it possible and even commonplace to save premature babies, Dr. Couney’s “infant incubators” welcomed the “tiniest bits of humanity” into the world with two drops of brandy and a show name. A fantastic, carnivalesque story filled with twists and surprises, THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. COUNEY entertains with a delightful assortment of historical oddities and a serious, sobering look at health practices, missteps, and unexpectedly resourceful advances in
—Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
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