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The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life (A Quadrant Book) Hardcover – September 10, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2013 New Millennium Book Award from the Society for Medical Anthropology

"A scholarly treatment of a fascinating subject" -- Kirkus Reviews

'Ambitious....Wolf-Meyer's message is that society should bend to accommodate, even celebrate, diversity in sleeping behaviour, rather than branding nonconformism pathological.' - Nature

"A great primer on the history and variability of sleep patterns, this book points to more flexible, realistic expectations of sleep to avoid both the drugs and the nights of insomnia." -- ForeWord

"A fascinating scholarly approach that will cause readers to question some of the givens regarding sleep habits in American culture." -- Library Journal

"A groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of sleep and its manifold discontents. With scrupulous care, Matthew Wolf-Meyer probes the current state of sleep medicine as well as its absorbing history. At a time when modern society’s dependence on sleeping pills and plush bedding has never been greater, The Slumbering Masses is all the more welcome for its ambitious compass and penetrating insights." —A. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past

"The Slumbering Masses is a fascinating account of the ordering and disordering of sleep as an institutional and individual phenomenon in modern America. Wolf-Meyer brings us into the lives of people struggling—at work, at home, and in clinics—to align their nights and days with the abstract demands of sleep as a biomedical form and social norm. He takes us into the past, too—expertly laying to rest fantasies of a prelapsarian agrarian lifestyle—and into the future—investigating how global sleep patterns have started to stagger and syncopate in response to advanced capitalism. Wolf-Meyer teaches us that sleep has a social life, and a restless one at that." —Stefan Helmreich, MIT



"A deconstruction of current preconceptions about sleep. Wolf-Meyer (Anthropology/Univ. of California, Santa Cruz) challenges the notion, promulgated by the medical community and pharmaceutical companies, that the norm of eight hours of consolidated sleep has been scientifically established to be crucial for medical and physical health."—Kirkus Reviews

"A fascinating scholarly approach that will cause readers to question some of the givens regarding sleep habits in American culture."—Library Journal

"A great primer on the history and variability of sleep patterns, this book points to more flexible, realistic expectations of sleep to avoid both the drugs and the nights of insomnia."—ForeWord Reviews

"Takes a polemical view of what might be called the “sleep question.” Wolf-Meyer, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, spent four years interviewing just about everyone involved in sleep research: physicians, technicians, patients, members of patients’ families. He concludes that what Americans have come to think of as sleep problems are mostly just problems in the way Americans have come to think about sleep."—The New Yorker

"A powerful call."—American Ethnologist

"Sleepers are indebted to The Slumbering Masses for compelling them to contemplate sleep (or the lack thereof) from a new perspective."—Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

"Reminds us that how, where, and why we sleep are always political decisions."—Current Anthropology

"Elegant and timely."—Medical Anthropology Quarterly

About the Author

Matthew Wolf-Meyer is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
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Product Details

  • Series: A Quadrant Book
  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (September 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816674744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816674749
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #359,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Proust, on writing about falling asleep, required 30 pages to discuss merely tossing and turning. Matthew Wolf-Meyer, set out to debunk the notion that consolidated sleep is a scientific fact and norm in fewer than 300 pages. Wolf-Meyer undertakes a substantial project, at times, made evident by single sentences (that take on a fourth or more of a page). I have now read the book twice and am still weary of summing it up and before I attempt to I would like to point out that Wolf-Meyer's The Slumbering Masses does exactly what an anthropological ethnographic critique of a scientific notion should. It provides very in depth historical data as well as numerous theories to draw on. The fieldwork is comprehensive as well as engaging. Finally, although Wolf-Meyer provides a kind of solution to the problem namely that there is not a singular right way to sleep because there are not singular biologies, he also posses rhetorical questions that may raise potential problems in the future.
There are many claims integral to Wolf-Meyer's premise. I will not address all of them. However, I will suggest that if you--as a reader and learner-- are intrigued by the subject of this book namely sleep, but don't think you'll be able to get through the language within it, do some research about both what science studies are and what a medical anthropologists (who is writing an academic book) should achieve within an ethnography. A simple Wikipedia search will suffice.
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Format: Hardcover
Oh to sleep! Oh to nap! Oh to be restless and unable to fall asleep! In his book The Slumbering Masses Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, anthropologist of medicine and science, explores sleep in all its facets - from sleep medicine to the rise of solitary sleepers, from workplace naps to sleepwalking murders.
How could I, a big fan of taking an afternoon nap, resist such a promising read? Sleep doesn't come easy and I was amazed at the diversity and complexity of sleep disorders, as well as intrigued by the social formations of sleep. What is healthy sleep? What is disordered sleep? Even though in condensed form, it certainly shows that several years of extensive research went into this book. And amidst the historical and clinical data, there are also lots of interesting facts to be found.
While fascinating, unfortunately I also found the book a bit slow going in places, and admittedly I had to struggle through some parts. While I wouldn't go so far as to say this book isn't for the general public, I found the execution a tad too scholastic for my taste. This is the kind of book which you'd expect on your college reading list; it might not be accessible to anyone, but is definitely worth a read for those genuinely interested in a serious and deep discussion of the topic.
In short: An extensive survey on everything you ever wanted to know about sleep!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
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Format: Hardcover
Everybody knows at least one person that claims to have--or they themselves experience--a sleep problem. Our everyday lives are inundated with commercials for sleep medicine, advertisements for the perfect bed, and constant marketing for energy drinks that will keep you going when you don't have time to rest.

Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer's book The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life addresses almost every aspect of sleep and how its boundaries structure our waking life. This review will focus on the aspect of his book that looks at how our society has come to be dependent on pharmaceuticals to sleep, stimulants to stay awake, and the many implications this dichotomy has on modern American society. The Slumbering Masses is a must read for anyone that is in the field of medical anthropology and for any person that is currently dealing with or thinks they may have a sleeping "problem." The goal of this review is to inspire everyone to read this book--the need to sleep is something we all share, and understanding how we have come to understand sleep sheds light on the ways we and the people around us interact with their environment. I hope this review will complement the previous review by Stella Manukyan.

For those of you that aren't used to reading books based on academic theory and written with scholarly language, I recommend looking at a blog post the author wrote in order to help guide one through the book with ease:
[...]

In regards to medical anthropology, Wolf-Meyer's book should be considered an essential stepping-stone towards understanding modern American life's rhythm and structure. As explained in this book, sleep was not always consolidated to a solid 8-hours during the night.
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