The Epidemiological Imagination: A Reader

The Epidemiological Imagination: A Reader

The Epidemiological Imagination: A Reader

The Epidemiological Imagination: A Reader


Public health is once again in the spotlight after several decades of being eclipsed by high tech, individually-oriented medical science. The reasons for this are not hard to find - the ever escalating costs of medical care, growing disillusionment with the return on investment, particularly for the poorer sections of the community, and a growing recognition of the importance of health promotion and preventative strategies which focus on the environmental and behavioural determinants of health and disease.

At the heart of the public health perspective is an emphasis on understanding whole populations through the application of epidemiological analysis. This reader addresses the need to make available some of the classics of epidemiology to the new generations of students who are now trained in public-health, and to share with them the excitement of the epidemiological method.

There is a wealth of experience in our collective public-health past and as we shape the new public health there is a danger of ignoring lessons from the old. By drawing on the choices of leading contemporary epidemiologists in selecting published papers both old and new, this volume aims to make the classics accessible to teachers and students alike.


According to the History Man, in Malcolm Bradbury's novel of the same name, to understand the world you need a bit of Marx, a bit of Freud and a bit of social history. Those of us who have made the step from individual to population medicine and to public health might add—and a bit of epidemiology.

However, there is more than a bit of epidemiology in this reader. the need for such a book has seemed apparent to the editor for some time, based on the experience of organizing and teaching on Masters in Public Health courses in London and Liverpool. There are numerous formal textbooks of epidemiology, but perhaps less general discussion and interpretation. There is also a wealth of experience in our collective public health past, and as we shape the new public health there is a danger of ignoring lessons from the old. in 1989 the Pan American Health Organization produced a reader entitled The Challenge of Epidemiology, which brought together a large collection of important epidemiological papers in one place. That volume runs to almost 1000 pages and might seem to some rather intimidating. the current contribution is intended for use at the postgraduate Masters level as a way of introducing people to epidemiological thinking, to some of the masters and some of the classics.

The approach that has been adopted is to ask leading contemporary epidemiologists to select one paper in which they have been involved themselves and one classic paper, possibly historical, that seemed to them to convey the potential and excitement of the epidemiological approach. They have then been asked to write a short introduction explaining their choice. I hope that the resulting menu is as interesting to students and teachers as it has been to the editor.

The title is unashamedly borrowed from a social science classic of a similar name by C. Wright-Mills. If this is plagiary then so be it–after all, all culture is plagiary, and it is my view that social science and the epidemiological method are part and parcel of the same culture of enquiry and understanding aimed at improving the human condition. I hope that students of all disciplines will find something here to stimulate them.

For the sake of ease of access and continuity a certain amount of abridging of these papers has taken place. Readers wishing to quote for the purposes of scientific publication are advised to check first with the original papers.

Royalties from the sales of this book will be used to support students of public health.


1 Wright-Mills, C. (1970) The Sociological Imagination. Harmondsworth: Pelican.

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