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Condition: Used: Good
Comment: Former library book in Good condition. Just the usual library markings. Not beat up at all,nice copy.
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Human Traces (Vintage International) Paperback – March 18, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set at the dawn of modern psychiatry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, British author Faulks's vast, elegant novel follows two "mad-doctors," Thomas Midwinter and his close friend Jacques Rebière, as they struggle to contribute something great to the emerging discipline. A chance meeting in 1880 leads to a lifelong partnership that lasts through journeys around the Continent and across the Atlantic. The pair vow to unlock the secrets of consciousness, and the novel traces their experiences in the hellish asylums of the day and their diverging approaches to the field. As Jacques grows interested in the Viennese school of psychoanalysis and talk therapy, Thomas focuses on the neurological and evolutionary mechanisms that lead to psychosis. Faulks (Birdsong) shines in his dramatization of Thomas's lectures, presaging contemporary arguments about chemical imbalances. While his characters attempt to discover what makes us human, Faulks also meticulously depicts grief, longing, nostalgia and melancholy through a portrait of Thomas's sister, Sonia. Faulks marries extensive research with a satisfying narrative arc to create a novel that is compelling as both history and literature. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

It's daunting to begin a lengthy novel on the early history of psychiatry, but Faulks' latest (after Green Dolphin Street) is less stodgy than this description suggests. In 1880, Jacques Rebiere, a Breton medical student, meets young Englishman Thomas Midwinter at a resort in Deauville, France. They're overjoyed to discover a mutual fascination with the human mind, "the meeting point between thought and flesh." Over the next 35 years, with the help of Thomas' sister, Sonia, they single-mindedly pursue their goal: to run a clinic that will cure, not merely house, the mentally ill. Their mission takes them from the overcrowded Salpetriere Hospital in Paris to the mountains of Austria, and from California's Sierra Madres to the dry African plains, where the earliest humans walked; when describing physical landscapes, Faulks' prose is sublime. He shapes his characters' personalities with a surgeon's gentle precision, but with voluminous pages of case notes and lectures, the novel hardly wears its research lightly. Continually fascinating despite its density, this intellectual epic explores the uneasy relationship between madness and humanity. Sarah Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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More from Sebastian Faulks
Sebastian Faulks brings his characters to life through his powerful prose and accomplished narratives. Visit Amazon's Sebastian Faulks Page.

Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375704574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375704574
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #276,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Although this is not an "easy" read, it is quite fascinating. The integration of the history of psychology with the story line of two fictional pioneers in the field was extremely well done. I have a degree in psychology, yet found myself learning many new things about the bases of current psychological theory, and I completely enjoyed the trouncing of the Oedipal complex and other parameters of the "Viennese" school even though Freud was never mentioned by name. Faulks draws his characters with style and verve - he has a good handle on both conscious and subconscious motivations, so the people of his novel do come to life and earn a place in your heart.
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Format: Hardcover
This huge novel spans the careers of two pioneering psychiatrists, one French, one English, who meet as boys and eventually co-found a sanatorium in the mountains of Austria, until driven apart by professional disagreements and the outbreak of the first War. For the first 250 pages of this 600-page book, the story holds the interest with warm characters, fascinating settings, and the stirrings of romance. However, the long lectures and scientific papers that Faulks uses to demonstrate the growing differences between the two (one is a Freudian, the other a Darwinian) come to clog the book around the half-way point, and although the two men continue to develop in interesting ways as people, he loses the sense of linear narrative. But Faulks pulls it all together in the last hundred pages; always a magnificent war novelist (see BIRDSONG, his masterpiece), his WW1 scenes appear almost as a lyrical interlude, with striking cathartic effect, and his final chapters have their own quiet beauty.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
So says Thomas Midwinter, the central character of this enthralling, sprawling novel by Sebastian Faulks. It follows the lives of two men, born in the 1860s, one from England and the other from France. For different reasons they each are interested in the way the human mind functions. They meet by chance around 1880, and charged with the idealism and ambition of youth and a late-nineteenth-century optimism about the power of science, they form a pact to discover the cause - and, surely then, the cure as well - of all forms of madness. Thomas Midwinter continues his education in England, culminating with a stint at a huge and monstrous insane asylum where the lunatics are warehoused. Jacques Rebière gets his education at the famous Salpêtrière in Paris. As "mad-doctors", they open a clinic in Paris, and then a sanatorium in Carinthia (Austria), which they operate until the outbreak of WWI. Along the way they get married, father children, have professional differences, and are visited by personal tragedy. The story ends around 1922.

HUMAN TRACES is a big, somewhat old-fashioned novel, of a type there are far too few these days. There is nothing "post-modern" about it. Two things stand out (as was also the case with the one other novel by Faulks that I have read, "A Week in December"). First is the grand, sweeping story, with plenty of human interest and dramatic episodes, including love affairs, tragic deaths, even an expedition to the jungles of East Africa and scenes of battle in WWI. Second, that story is also a platform for provocative ideas. If you turn off the thinking, inquisitive part of your mind and simply follow the novel for the story, wonderful though that story is, you will be missing many of the novel's pleasures.
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Format: Paperback
What does it mean to be human? Are we at the mercy of our inner, unconscious drives, a product of incomplete evolution - caught halfway between the new brain and the old brain, a work in progress?

Are people who hear voices crazy? Or, do they retain an ancient ability to talk to the gods, throwback to a previous version of us?

Faulk explores these questions in the context of early nineteenth century culture and science. Darwinism, archaeological discoveries in Africa, and war all play into this rich examination of what it means to be human.

Two men, each from disparate childhood circumstances, come together as clinicians in the newly forming field of psychiatry in Europe. Their ongoing discussion provides the raison d'etre of the plot.

Two women - one, a constant presence, all along the way showing us what may be the most human characteristic of all.

Sebastian Faulk gives us no sketch but rather a masterwork with shadings, details, complex colors, and a grand canvas for it all.

Susan Williams
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I admire Faulks' novels, their scope, their language, the pace of their narrative, and the play of detail on such a broad canvas. I also admire the attempt of this novel, characters who devote their entire lives to trying to unravel the mysteries of mental illness in order to treat the mentally ill with success. A good cast of characters; I wanted to know what happened to them. And a natural sense of the historical setting. (The first mental institution will always stay with me.) One of the challenges of the novel are the sections in which the main characters sit and talk at length about theories current at the time. While it was in character for these men to talk at such length, it brought the narrative to a halt unless you skipped ahead. The first half of the novel, perhaps first 2/3 is far more lively than the last part, not usually a good thing in a novel.

If you haven't read Faulks, start with BIRDSONG, which will probably be the book he's best known for. He's a terrific writer, but I wouldn't start with this novel.
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