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The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine Hardcover – January 17, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Over the past several years, numerous medical reports have confirmed the connection between a positive mental attitude and good physical health. In this splendid book, Harrington (The Placebo Effect), chair of Harvard's history of science department, demonstrates that the belief in such a connection between mind and body is nothing new. She uses case studies and stories of healings to show how deeply embedded the idea of positive mental health is in the quest for physical health, as well as the ways that contemporary medicine has incorporated a focus on mind-body healing into its black bag. In her highly original analysis of this history from ancient times to the present, she discovers six different narratives about mind-body healing. These include the power of suggestion, the power of positive thinking and broken by modern life. In the body that speaks narrative, for instance, Harrington traces the idea that physical symptoms are the outward expression of the mind's secrets, and that revealing those secrets can heal, whether the revelation takes place in the confession box or on the analyst's couch. Harrington's study offers a first-rate cultural history of an age-old but still much debated topic.
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Harrington...has expertly mapped the transmission of mind-body ideas...showing us where they come from and why exactly they seem to have nine lives. — Amanda Schaffer (Slate)

This brilliant study ... concludes that 'mind-body medicine is a deeply storied world.' — Barbara Fisher (Boston Globe)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (January 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393065633
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065633
  • ASIN: 0393065634
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #472,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whenever a first-class scholar, like this one, writes a careful, data-based book, which is at the same time accessible to the intelligent lay person, we must be grateful.

This volume tells us much of the history, in the United States, of the various mind-over-body schemes: psychoanalysis, Transcendental Meditation, bio-feedback, Christian Science, and others. Nobody interested in modern American history can afford to ignore this story.

But I also found the book profoundly confusing. The author wants to tell us about these movements and how they were received by the public, but she has little interest, it seems, in the truth value behind the claims of these popular movements. Does bio-feedback, for instance, really help in reducing stress ? For that matter, is there such a thing as "stress" in the sense that the proponents of these movements have in mind ? Truth or untruth are things that hold little interest for this author.

Harrington generally tells the story of the beginnings of these movements as a series of successes, and then, for some reason, time and again, "things begin to unravel," as she has to state time and again. With all her sympathies for "mind-over-body," sympathies that dominate her "narratives" (a favorite phrase of hers), it turns out, generally, and in stark contrast to her enthusiasms, that things don't work out after all, and it would seem -- though she never says this -- that it's probably best to be cynical about the whole lot of these movements.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not an easy book to read, The Cure Within is nonetheless the best summary of the state of mind-body medicine around. The author is a prodigious researcher, and brings the mind of a scientist and the heart of a historian to the subject matter; she reveals how we got to our present attitude toward mind-body medicine and in the process, connects the dots from ancient times to today.

However, the book is so dense with information that after finishing it, I felt forced to read it through once more, and in doing so, picked up a great deal more than I had the first time. It's also written in a monotone, as though the author were delivering it in one long, record-breaking breath. And yet, perhaps, that might have been wise, as the style deflects any sense of sensationalism or silliness in a subject that often attracts just that from other writers.

All in all, there are few books out there that display this kind of interdisciplinary wisdom and insightful commentary. However, as other reviewers have pointed out, she is careful to avoid a point of view; would she herself prefer acupuncture to anesthesia? Would she practice meditiation or take a valium? You have to guess.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Harrington provides a masterful synthesis of Mind-Body Medicine. I was a skeptical chemist who spent most of his working life in the midwest before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. For five years I looked askance at the smorgasbord of alternative healing that flourishes here. Eventually a new wife persuaded me to try acupuncture for tennis elbow. I have not looked back. I claim no miracle cures but do now have the glimmerings of understanding my mind-body as a marvellously inter-connected system with endless possibilities for feedback from every sensory modality. Harrington has great understanding of the mind-body system. The rigor of her approach and the clarity of her writing style make The Cure Within both thought provoking and a delight to read.

Lance Reynolds
Alameda, CA
1 Comment 29 of 39 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
My method for choosing books can be summed up by a single word: serendipity. I like to give chance a chance. To be true, I have my preferences. I like to read scholarly books in history, economics, social science, and international relations. But within these broad categories, I let myself be guided by personal whim and fortuitous encounters. A catchy title, an elegant book cover, or the blurbs by people I trust on the back jacket, can carry the day. I confess I am even sometimes influenced by Amazon reviews.

I had every reason not to pick up that book. The cover page, with the hand of a Buddha statue in a meditative position, evoked Eastern spirituality and esoteric rituals, things that leave me rather insensitive. The title reinforced that cautious impression, as The Cure Within could be construed either as a self-help manual or the tale of an inner journey, two categories I prefer to avoid. But here was the subtitle, A History of Mind-Body Medicine, which included two categories--history and medicine--that feature in my tag list. So I figured there was something for me in this book. I wasn't disappointed.

It is not easy to explain what this book is about. The expression "mind-body medicine" may not be familiar to all readers. It certainly wasn't for me. There is no obvious equivalent in my native language (I never heard of "la médecine du corps et de l'esprit"), and other terms that relate to the same field (psychosomatic medicine, behavioral medicine, holistic medicine, new age medicine, spiritual healing...) are either dated, limited to specialists, or code words for alternative practices only loosely related to medicine. As Anne Harrington explains, mind-body medicine is a rather new concept.
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