Fenster, Julie M.
Fenster, Julie M.
ADDRESSES: Home—NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Crown Publishers, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Writer and historian.
AWARDS, HONORS: Anesthesia Foundation Book/Multimedia Education Award, 2003, for Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It; Best Book Award, National Automotive Journalism Conference, for Packard: The Pride.
Boston Guide, Open Road Publishing (New York, NY), 1997.
America's Grand Hotels, Open Road Publishing (New York, NY), 1998.
Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Mavericks, Miracles, and Medicine: The Pioneers Who Risked Their Lives to Bring Medicine into the Modern Age, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2003.
Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2005.
Packard: The Pride, Automobile Quarterly Publications (New Albany, IN), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals such as American Heritage, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and American History. Author of column for Audacity (business history magazine). Member of editorial staff, Automobile Quarterly.
SIDELIGHTS: Writer and historian Julie M. Fenster is a frequent contributor to magazines and the author of books on business, medical and social history, and automobiles. In Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It Fenster tells the story of the three men who pioneered the use of anesthesia in surgical procedures. The trio includes Charles Jackson, better known as a geologist than a physician; Horace Wells, the first to use nitrous oxide—a gas used as a mild anesthetic—in dentistry; and William Morton, who designed and built the first successful delivery device for administering ether to patients, but who also had a history as a con man. The three were at odds over who actually made the discovery of the highly flammable ether in the 1840s and who should benefit from it financially. Ultimately, all three died in tragic, diminished circumstances. Fenster also describes how Yale University students used ether as a recreational drug during the early nineteenth century and how firearm maker Samuel Colt raised money at an ether show where attendees could pay to get a whiff of the powerful anesthetic. Fenster "ably renders the three main characters, who typify that common nineteenth-century American combination of brilliance, ambition, and mental instability," remarked a Publishers Weekly critic.
Mavericks, Miracles, and Medicine: The Pioneers Who Risked Their Lives to Bring Medicine into the Modern Age is a supplementary volume to a multi-part documentary that aired on television's History Channel. In the book, Fenster provides twenty stories of notable men and women whose work and discoveries significantly advanced medical knowledge. She "provides the necessary context for understanding the significance of her subjects' accomplishments in a readable, undemanding fashion," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Among her subjects are Wilhelm Roentgen, who discovered the X-ray and whose name became the term describing the type of ionizing radiation used in X-rays; Ian Wilmer, the man who is credited with cloning Dolly the sheep; Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered that hand-washing by doctors could help prevent the spread of disease; anatomist Andreas Vesalius, who conducted pioneering work in the sixteenth century; and Werner Forssmann, who developed the process of cardiac catheterization and actually performed the procedure on himself. She arranges the book into five broad categories, including germ theory, understanding the body, magic bullets, the mind, and surgery, and explores the lives and accomplishments of notables whose work falls under each of these groupings. Fenster also profiles Mary Mallon, better known as "Typhoid Mary," who presented one of the most difficult medical challenges in history. "The book includes some vivid storytelling, lively quotations, and nice turns of phrase, with a variety of word derivations and other interesting tidbits," commented Barbara Gastel in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Fenster turns to business and social history with Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race. The story centers on the grand race across twenty-two thousand miles of sometimes unforgiving terrain, harsh weather, dangerous local inhabitants, and enforced isolation. "It's difficult to overstate the audacity of this project," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. At the time of the race, automobiles were still unreliable and could not be counted on to hold up over such a grueling course. Most roads were unpaved, rivers and ravines were not spanned by bridges, and automotive safety was negligible. Still, according to Fenster, public support ran high—more than fifty thousand spectators were on hand for the race's starting gun—and spectator enthusiasm helped propel the racers on through daunting obstacles. The international competitors all had deep motivations for participating: the French for maintaining their dominance from having won the prior year's race; the Germans for honoring their homeland; and the Americans for proving the strength and versatility of what was then a new industry. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that "Fenster is a superb storyteller, taking the factual information of the race and investing it with wit and brio."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Heritage, June-July, 2005, "Cars, Cards, and Father: A Trio of American Heritage Authors Have Expanded Their Articles into Books," includes a brief review of Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race, p. 16.
Biography, fall, 2001, David F. Musto, review of Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It, p. 999.
Family Practice, October 1, 2001, Joanne M. Berger, review of Ether Day, p. 27.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2003, review of Mavericks, Miracles, and Medicine: The Pioneers Who Risked Their Lives to Bring Medicine into the Modern Age, p. 1002; April 1, 2005, review of Race of the Century, p. 397.
New England Journal of Medicine, January 1, 2004, Barbara Gastel, review of Mavericks, Miracles, and Medicine.
Publishers Weekly, June 18, 2001, review of Ether Day, p. 69; May 2, 2005, review of Race of the Century, p. 191.
American Society of Anesthesiologists Web site, http://www.asahq.org/ (September 19, 2005), biography of Julie M. Fenster.