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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 89 The Mind–Body Story THE CURE WITHIN A History of Mind–Body Medicine By Anne Harrington W.W. Norton & Company, 2007; 354 pp., $25.95 (cloth) REVIEWED BY NANCY WARING REVIEWS AN ETHEREAL LADY IN WHITE leads a peasant girl to a fresh- water spring behind a grotto in the village of Lourdes, France, in 1858. Scores of villagers soon describe healings after drinking the water, and two decades of seemingly miraculous cures later, the Papacy recognizes Lourdes as a sacred place of healing and pilgrimage. Across the ocean in Portland, Maine, a chronic invalid visits clockmaker and sometime mesmerist Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who persuades her that she can will herself to become well. Soon, a restored-to-health Mary Baker Eddy climbs 182 steps to the dome of Portland’s city hall. In the 1870s, Eddy establishes the Christian Science Church and publishes Science and Health, espousing her conviction that illness is an illusion people can overcome through prayer and guidance from a Christian Science “practitioner.” Fast-forward nearly a century, when New York City preacher Norman Vincent Peale lifts millions of spirits around the coun- try with the 1952 publication of The Power of Positive Thinking, whose opening imperative, “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities,” resounds throughout this best-seller. A decade or so later, Norman Cousins, the editor of the Saturday Review, is nearly paralyzed from ankylosing spon- dylitis, a degenerative disease that breaks down the fibrous tis- sue holding the body’s cells together. With his doctor’s support, Cousins jettisons conventional medical treatment in favor of Marx Brothers films, reruns from the television show Candid Camera, humorous literature, and powerful injections of vi- tamin C. Within weeks he is symptom-free. In 1976, the New England Journal of Medicine publishes Cousins’ account of self- healing, an expanded version of which becomes the best-seller, and now classic, Anatomy of an Illness. These women and men and their stories, crossing centuries, continents, and cultures, populate Professor Anne Harrington’s account of the “power of positive thinking,” one of the six nar- rative templates through which Harrington, a medical historian and chair of the History of Science Department at Harvard, tells the cultural history of mind–body medicine in her new book, The Cure Within: A History of Mind–Body Medicine. Harrington chose stories as the vehicle for her cultural his- tory of mind–body medicine, she tells us, because she believes “this is the best way to carve the subject up at its joints.” In each of the narratives—“The Power of Suggestion,” “The Body That Speaks,” “The Power of Positive Thinking,” “Broken by Modern Life,” “Healing Ties,” and “Eastward Journeys”—her approach is as interdisciplinary as it is narrative. Professor Harrington seems equally comfortable in the domains of science, medicine and medical research, religion, and popular culture. In “The Power of Suggestion,” she connects the dots between seventeenth-century priests wrestling Satan out of possessed souls; eighteenth-century physician Franz Anton Mesmer’s convulsion-inducing and al- legedly curative “animal magnetism”; and the placebo effect, re- garded as trickery in the early part of the twentieth century, and later as a legitimate form of suggestive psychotherapy. Also striking is Harrington’s account, in “Healing Ties,” of the low incidence of cardiac infarction in the tightly knit commu- NANCY WARING writes about mind–body and Western medicine, and teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is currently writing a book interweaving her personal experience of a non-malignant brain tumor with a history of the diagnosis and treatment of brain tumors. MAR 78-107.indd 89 MAR 78-107.indd 89 12/19/07 2:43:31 PM 12/19/07 2:43:31 PM