This book shows how vitamin A deficiency - before the vitamin was known to scientists - affected millions of people throughout history. It is a story of sailors and soldiers, penniless mothers, orphaned infants, and young children left susceptible to blindness and fatal infections. We also glimpse the fortunate ones who, with ample vitamin A-rich food, escaped this elusive stalker. Why were people going blind and dying? To unravel this puzzle, scientists around the world competed over the course of a century. Their persistent efforts led to the identification of vitamin A and its essential role in health. As a primary focus of today's international public health efforts, vitamin A has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But, we discover, they could save many more were it not for obstacles erected by political and ideological zealots who lack a historical perspective of the problem. Although exhaustively researched and documented, this book is written for intellectually curious lay readers as well as for specialists. Public health professionals, nutritionists, and historians of science and medicine have much to learn from this book about the cultural and scientific origins of their disciplines. Likewise, readers interested in military and cultural history will learn about the interaction of health, society, science, and politics. The author's presentation of vitamin A deficiency is likely to become a classic case study of health disparities in the past as well as the present.
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