Desowitz, Robert S. 1926–
Desowitz, Robert S. 1926–
PERSONAL: Born January 2, 1926, in New York, NY; son of Charles (a contractor) and Bertha (Schaen) Desowitz; married Jeanette Gudgel, September 14, 1954 (divorced, 1968); married Carrolee Harned (a teacher), September 12, 1969; children: (first marriage) Duba, Gregory. Education: University of Buffalo, B.A., 1948; University of London, Ph.D., 1951, D.Sc., 1960. Hobbies and other interests: Growing orchids, tennis, collecting Asian and primitive art.
ADDRESSES: Home—45 Woodenbridge Ln., Pinehurst, NC 28374-8178. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Colonial Medical Research Service, West African Institute for Trypanosomiasis Research, Vom, Nigeria, principal scientific officer, 1951–60; University of Singapore, Singapore, professor of parasitology and head of department, 1960–65; Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Medical Research Laboratory, Bangkok, Thailand, chief of department of parasitology, 1965–68; University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, professor of tropical medicine and public health at Leahi Hospital, 1968–95, professor emeritus of tropical medicine and medical microbiology, 1995–; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, adjunct professor of epidemiology, 1995–. Visiting professor, University of Texas, Houston, 2004; member of teaching faculty, Malaria and Pregnancy Workshop, Tanzania, 2004. Member of World Health Organization expert committee on parasitic diseases, 1964–1984; consultant to governments of Burma, Samoa, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, India, and Tonga.
MEMBER: American Society of Parasitology, American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (fellow), Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (fellow), Malaysian Society of Tropical Medicine (honorary fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright scholar, 1948, 1994; senior exchange fellow, World Health Organization, 1972; Association of Medical Writers award, 1981, for Ova Parasites: Medical Parasitology; Regents' Medal for Excellence in Teaching, 1988; senior Fogarty fellow, National Institutes of Health, 1990; Father Damien Foundation research fellow, 1994; Prix Prescrire (France), for Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria: Torrid Disease in a Temperate World; Royal Society of Medicine/Society of Authors Award, for Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus.
Ova and Parasites, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1980.
New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers: Tales of Parasites and People, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1981.
The Thorn in the Starfish: The Immune System and How It Works, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1987.
The Malaria Capers: More Tales of Parasites and People, Research and Reality, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1991.
Tropical Diseases from 50,000 BC to 2,500 AD, Flamingo (London, England), 1997.
Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria?: Torrid Diseases in a Temperate World, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: Tales of Parasites, People, and Politics, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor of nearly 150 articles to scientific journals.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert S. Desowitz is an expert in the field of parasitic diseases and their control. His writings, from New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers: Tales of Parasites and People to Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: Tales of Parasites, People, and Politics, examine the spread of disease, the body's immune response to diseases, and the ways various diseases have spread and mutated over the centuries.
Desowitz's New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers is a collection of true stories for the general reader. From prehistoric to modern times, parasites have been an integral part of human and animal life. As Desowitz implies in his book, parasites have even changed history: his collection includes the tale of a nineteenth-century Moslem invasion that was thwarted when a parasitic infection killed the cavalry's horses. Other stories point to the strong relationship between parasitic diseases and traditional religious practices and the ecological role that parasites play in the agricultural process. Critic J.F. Watkins, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, found the author's style to be "pleasantly hard-boiled, humane without sentimentality, and spiced with mild wisecracks and vernacular expressions." He recommended the book, not only to the curious general reader, but to medical students and social anthropologists as well.
The Malaria Capers: More Tales of Parasites and People, Research and Reality takes a close look at the mosquito-borne disease that was once thought to be close to eradicated, but which is in fact at epidemic proportions in some parts of the world. The adaptability of mosquitos to pesticides used against them, the resistance of some strains of the disease against drugs that were once effective in treatment, and even the greed of some health-care professionals and corporations have all been factors in the failure to truly control this often-deadly disease. "Read Desowitz to learn how we have reached this situation in spite of donors spending hundreds of millions of dollars," advised Africa Today contributor Aaron Segal.
Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria?: Torrid Diseases in a Temperate World is Desowitz's exploration of how diseases such as syphilis, malaria, and others have moved and mutated around the globe. Modern health threats such as pig tapeworm and Chagas disease are also examined. Desowitz predicts that, due to rising temperatures, overpopulation, increased mobility and other factors, the twenty-first century will be a dangerous one for the health of the world's population. Kenneth F. Kiple, a reviewer for the Journal of Social History, commented: "Despite disease and death occupying center stage one suspects that this book was fun to write and it certainly was fun to read."
When asked about his writing, Desowitz told CA: "I began writing after completing my work on the NAS/Congressional Committee on the Effects of Herbicides in Vietnam and was invited by Natural History magazine to do an article on ecological change and malaria. I found it an enjoyable compliment to the 'formula' writing for peer reviewed scientific journals, albeit no less demanding for accuracy and content. Writing became an inextricable part of my 'scientific' pursuits in the laboratory and field and I stopped writing popular books when I retired. I did all my first drafts on a yellow pad with fountain pen—computerized cleanup versions followed.
"I guess my favorite book is my last, Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus, since it is my most politically polemical work and thus dear to my own convictions in these parlous times. 'The people' mostly still like New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers, which remains in print after twentythree years. Malariologist colleagues like the The Malaria Capers, which is a kind of yellow dog journalism. I certainly never became wealthy from my books, but the great reward has always been the young people who have been influenced in career and attitude by them (as de Kruif influenced me as a youth, and Berton Roueche in later life)."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Africa Today, summer, 1993, Aaron Segal, review of The Malaria Capers: More Tale of Parasite and People, Research and Reality, p. 87.
American Scientist, March-April, 1998, Douglas D. McGregor, review of Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria?: Torrid Diseases in a Temperate World, p. 194.
Amicus Journal, winter, 1998, Goldman Leo, review of Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria?, p. 43.
Booklist, September 1, 2002, William Beatty, review of Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: People, Parasites, Politics, p. 35.
British Medical Journal, June 7, 2003, Sanjay A. Pai, review of Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus, p. 1271.
Foreign Affairs, November-December, 1997, review of Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria?, p. 158.
Fortune, October 28, 2002, Philip Siekman, interview with Robert S. Desowitz, p. 44.
JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, January 21, 1998, Barnett L. Cline, review of Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria?, p. 245.
Journal of Social History, spring, 1999, Kenneth F. Kiple, review of Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria?, p. 707.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus, p. 1090.
Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2003, Lee Hotz, review of Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus, p. R15.
New Scientist, May 22, 1993, John Gribbin, review of The Malaria Capers, p. 43.
New York Review of Books, October 8, 1987, M.F. Perutz, review of The Thorn in the Starfish: How the Immune System Works, p. 35; January 16, 2003, Helen Epstein, review of Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus, p. 20.
New York Times, November 13, 1981; October 18, 1991, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Malaria Capers, p. B4.
Publishers Weekly, September 6, 1991, review of The Malaria Capers, p. 87; April 14, 1997, review of Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria?, p. 65.
Times (London, England), July 31, 1997, F. Bynum, review of Tropical Diseases: From 50,000 B.C. to 2,500 A.D., p. 35.
Times Higher Education Supplement, October 24, 1997, Christopher Wills, review of Tropical Diseases, p. 32.
Times Literary Supplement, September 24, 1982, J.F. Watkins, review of New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers: Tales of Parasites and People, p. 1027.