The Pain Chronicles is a tale of two books: one a broad-brush study of pain throughout the ages in literature, religion, history, art, and philosophy; the other, remarkable insight into the ravages of pain on the individual and the earnest (if hit-and-miss) efforts of modern science to handle chronic pain. An accomplished science writer, Thernstrom neatly balances her own story within the larger context, dividing the book into sections on pain as metaphor, history, disease, narrative, and perception. Some critics found Thernstrom's close-up work less effective than the history. "While her physical descriptions are often precise," Robin Romm writes, "she frequently blurs the boundary between romantic and physical pain, to sometimes melodramatic effect." Others commented that Thernstrom gives short shrift to Eastern medicine. Still, critics agree that the book is engaging and passionate.