- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Faber & Faber; 1 edition (February 2, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0865479208
- ISBN-13: 978-0865479203
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,454,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives Hardcover – February 2, 2010
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The Amazon Book Review
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There are some famous people who are well known for living tormented or eccentric lives: the self-destructively fastidious Glenn Gould, or Andy Warhol, with his obsessive fear of disease. But who, except perhaps for avid fans or scholars, knew that Charles Darwin suffered from a variety of self-inflicted ailments (as well as excessive flatulence)? Dillon uses the lives of these and other notables (such as Florence Nightingale and James Boswell) to explore the many meanings and manifestations of hypochondria. Most interesting, perhaps, is the way the author shows how hypochondria can both limit a person’s way of life while also enriching that person’s life. Boswell, for example, obsessively scheduled his own life, but without his fear of formlessness, he might night never have become a writer. This deeply fascinating study will turn the reader’s eyes inward, to focus on his or her own foibles and compulsions and to wonder what they might really mean. --David Pitt
Praise for The Hypochondriacs
“Dillon’s brimming volume . . . provides good company for the ceaselessly suffering imaginary-malady-struck.” —David Finkle, The Huffington Post
“An intriguing, suavely written blend of medical history and literary criticism, a book that adds to the growing (or metastasizing) field of pathological biography.” —Heller McAlpin, Los Angeles Times
“Dillon writes the sort of refined, slightly rarefied prose that might have once been called belletristic—an old-fashioned word for an old-fashioned but pleasant style. This balances out the freakish complaints and treatments undertaken by his subjects, and so The Hypochondriacs walks the line between voyeurism and thoughtfulness with considerable dexterity . . . What makes The Hypochondriacs fascinating is the ever-shifting spectacle it offers of human folly and ingenuity, and the revelation that it can be so hard to tell the two apart.” —Laura Miller, Salon
“Superb . . . Thought-provoking and gracefully written.” —Daphne Merkin, Bookforum
“[Dillon’s] nine case studies embrace writers and artists, thinkers and iconoclasts; they are full of insight and beautifully constructed, with a wealth of cultural reference and a breadth of imagination behind them.” —Hilary Mantel, London Review of Books
“[The Hypochondriacs] is not a book you can’t put down. It is a book you will keep putting down, both to absorb what [Dillon] has said and to postpone reaching the end. There is no higher compliment.” —Michael Bywater, The Independent
“There is an abundance of ‘wracked truth’ in this book. It will delight, inform, move and horrify any of the millions of us.” —Sam Leith, The Daily Mail
“[An] excellent book.” —Kevin Jackson, The Sunday Times (London)
Top customer reviews
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One can't help feeling sorry for such intelligent people, who were, more or less, barking mad.
This short review cannot do justice to this interesting and informative book. It explores the many emotions all of us have when it comes to illness and disease. The stories of these nine individuals (James Boswell, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Alice James, Daniel Paul Schreber, Marcel Proust, Glen Gould and Andy Warhol) will touch your heart and soul.
Personally, I related too many of these famous people with my personal medical problems. The loss of one’s youth and the medical problems which become part of one’s life is something most people have to accept as part of life. There is something for everyone in this book and I found it refreshing and enlightening.
Rating: 4 Stars. Joseph J. Truncale (Author: The Samurai Soul: An old warrior’s poetic tribute).
These essays are interesting, because (for the most part) these were famous people who had a large influence in the world, yet they were plagued by self-doubts and nervous complaints that made their lives quite difficult.
The most outlandish example of the nine was Daniel Paul Schreber, who authored a book called "Memoirs of My Nervous Illness", and whose experiences with his body often sounded as if he was recounting an acid trip. He was clearly psychotic. With other subjects, Dillon allows himself to speculate as to what actually may have been wrong with them. Florence Nightengale may have had brucellosis. Glenn Gould, it has become fashionable to posit, may have had a touch of autism. Andy Warhol seems to have invented a genre of illness nearly all his own--celebrity hypochondriac. Like Michael Jackson, Warhol was so at odds with his own body that he adapted to a false appearance, a waxen image of himself that he inhabited.
Brian Dillon clearly had a goldmine of material to work with... but I'm not sure that he couldn't have done a much better job. He doesn't really succeed in connecting these histories to any sort of commonality. Plus, most annoyingly, he writes like an academician... employing an endless supply of commas. Though it is a fairly slim book, "The Hypochondriacs" is at times a torment to read.
One fascinating point the author makes is that, by and large, hypochondria is based on the false belief that a healthy body is a neutral, static entity, when in fact bodies - even the healthiest ones - are in a constant state of flux and self-correction. The curse of hypochondriacs is to mistake every infinitesimal fluctuation as a sign of illness.
A second interesting point is the way in which these sufferers relied on their hypochondria (or, in their view, their actual infirmities) to control their lives to some extent. For several of these individuals, illness was the only way to achieve and maintain the physical and/or emotional distance from others they needed in order to function.
Overall, a fascinating look at a disorder that, more than most, dearly tries the patience of the patient's family and friends. Many emotional disorders are romanticized from time to time; hypochondria, we must admit, is usually only the butt of jokes.