Bown, Stephen R.
Bown, Stephen R.
PERSONAL: Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; married; children: one son. Education: Attended University of Alberta.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Thomas Allen Publishers, 145 Front Street East, Suite 209, Toronto, Ontario M5A 1E3, Canada.
CAREER: Freelance writer; former multimedia projects producer.
Sightseers and Scholars: Scientific Travellers in the Golden Age of Natural History, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to magazines, including Alaska, Mercator's World, Beautiful British Columbia, and Beaver.
SIDELIGHTS: Stephen R. Bown's second book, Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail, is "splendid popular history," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor. In Scurvy, Bown examines how this disease, caused by a vitamin C deficiency, affected the history of Britain, the great European naval power. Dutch sailors were aware that drinking lemon juice (a highly concentrated source of vitamin C) cured scurvy as early as 1593, but many doctors and scientists were skeptical of this cure since no one could explain why it worked. The British Bavy preferred the explanation that unbalanced bodily humors were the cause of the disease, and it relied on useless "remedies" based on this theory throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As a result, the British Navy lost hundreds of thousands of sailors, frequently half of every crew that was sent out on a long voyage. The surgeon of the title, James Lind, a naval doctor, conducted clinical trials of scurvy remedies in 1753. He identified citrus juice as the most effective treatment, but still no one listened. Independently, the "mariner" of the book's title, Captain James Cook, instituted a number of hygienic reforms on his ships, including diets that featured fresh fruits and vegetables. His crews did not suffer from scurvy, but he did not know which change in particular was responsible for preventing it. Only when the "gentleman" of the title, one Gilbert Blane, became involved was scurvy finally banished from British ships. Blane, a physician as well as a nobleman, understood that citrus fruit could cure and even prevent scurvy, and through his influence he finally convinced the British naval hierarchy of this fact. At Blane's urging, in 1795 the Royal Navy began issuing a daily ration of lemon juice to British sailors, thereby eradicating scurvy from its fleet. As a result, Bown theorizes, a decade later this stronger, healthier force was able to defeat Napoleon's larger but still scurvy-ridden French navy handily at the pivotal Battle of Trafalgar. "Bown tells the story well, and he presents a vivid picture of life aboard ship during the age of sail," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. A Melbourne Herald Sun reviewer also praised Bown's telling, calling the book "fabulous" and "accessible" and saying, "Never was a now seldom-seen vitamin deficiency so interesting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Beaver: Exploring Canada's History, August-September, 2004, review of Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail, p. 48.
Booklist, March 15, 2004, Ray Olson, review of Scurvy, pp. 1251-1252.
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), October 11, 2003, Shaunagh O'Connor, review of Scurvy, p. W29.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2004, review of Scurvy, p. 20.
Library Journal, January, 2004, Kathy Arsenault, review of Scurvy, p. 146.
M2 Best Books, October 21, 2003, review of Scurvy.
Natural History, March, 2004, Laurence A. Marschall, review of Scurvy, p. 67.
Publishers Weekly, January 19, 2004, review of Scurvy, pp. 60-61.
Stephen R. Bown Home Page, http://www.stephenrbown.net (September 8, 2004).
Summersdale Publishers Web Site, http://www.summersdale.com/ (August 27, 2004).
Thomas Allen Publishers Web Site, http://www.thomasallen.com/ (August 27, 2004).