Thorough, enjoyable, and rigorous, this study documents the major "unconventional" healing movements of 19th- and 20th-century America. Whorton (history of medicine, Univ. of Washington) traces the origins and influences of Thomsonianism, homeopathy, mesmerism, Christian Science, osteopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, and acupuncture, briefly discussing therapeutic touch, visualization, and prayer as well. The author also examines the rancorous history of medical licensing in the United States and leaves the reader with a sense that 21st-century healthcare will allow for a more conciliatory system of integrative medicine. He focuses on organized healing traditions and therefore does not examine the recent trend toward mass-market teas, supplements, herbal remedies, and other now-routine household therapies. This book fills a large gap left since the publication of Norman Gevitz's 1988 collection of essays, Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.
Andy Wickens, King Cty. Lib. Syst., Seattle
From The New England Journal of Medicine
One of the bits of doggerel that James Whorton missed as he tracked the course of vis medicatrix naturae over the past two centuries came from the prolix pen of Oliver Wendell Holmes (from "The Morning Visit"): Of all the ills that suffering man endures, The largest fraction liberal Nature cures. None knew this better than Holmes's contemporary "irregular" practitioners of the healing art, some of whose theories Holmes demolished with overkill in "Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions" (Boston: Ticknor, 1842). The first third of James Whorton's history is devoted to the heyday of alternative medicine in the 19th century, a time when homeopathy, hydropathy, neuropathy, and magnetism were preferable to the mercury purges and bleeding of traditional medicine. In spite of their crack-brained theories, however, the so-called irregulars were ahead of the traditionalists in some ways: they welcomed women into their fold, they emphasized prevention, and they promoted sex education. Those physicians, who, like Holmes, abhorred the heroic "cures" of traditionalists were reduced to a therapeutic nihilism that militated against any placebo effect. None of this is new information, but Dr. Whorton has performed a service by bringing it all together in one place and in relation to the times.