Andrea Tone - Devices & Desires

September 15, 2004

Andrea Tone
Devices & Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America
New York: Hill & Wang, 2001

This book got a lot of press last year when the New York Museum of Sex opened. I finally got around to reading it last weekend.

Tone's subtitle is misleading: this is a book about contraception in the United States from 1873 to the 1990s. She opens her tale with the Comstock Act of 1873 which made it a federal crime to transmit birth control information through the U.S. Mails, and continues the tale from the subsequent period of illegal and semi-legal birth control through the invention of The Pill and the subsequent failed search for better alternatives to the pill.

She is strongest on the early parts of the book, telling of Comstock and people like Julius Schmidt, the crippled German immigrant who figured out how to adopt sausage-making machinery to condom production, and in her final chapter where she looks at the search for a better alternative to the pill, the consequences of the medicalization of birth control in the United States, and the lingering misogyny in reproductive management. Elsewhere, her writing suffers from several of the same faults I find in my own work: paragraphs that trail off into nowhere, a narrative that gets sidetracked and distracted, and a tendency to get so caught up in describing the "what" that she forgets to keep a focus on the "so what." In short, it is an adequately-written book about an important subject in which she introduces a lot of new material and convincingly describes the shift from a commercial to a medical model of birth control.

I should say more, but I have class prep and this is a blog not a formal book review. Good book, glad I read it, others should read it.

Posted by Red Ted at September 15, 2004 01:16 PM | TrackBack
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