Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Neurological Patient in History, edited by L. Stephen Jacyna and Stephen T. Casper

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: February 7, 2014

Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Tourette's, multiple sclerosis, stroke: all are neurological illnesses that create dysfunction, distress, and disability. With their symptoms ranging from impaired movement and paralysis to hallucinations and dementia, neurological patients present myriad puzzling disorders and medical challenges. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries countless stories about neurological patients appeared in newspapers, books, medical papers, and films. Often the patients were romanticized; indeed, it was common for physicians to cast neurological patients in a grand performance, allegedly giving audiences access to deep philosophical insights about the meaning of life and being. Beyond these romanticized images, however, the neurological patient was difficult to diagnose. Experiments often approached unethical realms, and treatment created challenges for patients, courts, caregivers, and even for patient advocacy organizations. In this kaleidoscopic study, the contributors illustrate how the neurological patient was constructed in history and came to occupy its role in Western culture. Stephen T. Casper is Assistant Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at Clarkson University. L. Stephen Jacyna is reader in the History of Medicine and Director of the Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London.

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I personally think it impossible to truly appreciate historic fiction if one is not versed in the history on which it is based. For this reason, I make a habit of picking up nonfiction that focuses on subjects with which I am not familiar which how I came to read The Neurological Patient in History. 

A collection of essays the book offers detailed insight to the evolution of neurological medicine and the perception of neurological patients throughout history. On one hand I thought the information fascinating, but on the other I felt somewhat cheated in that none of the featured authors really delved into the treatment of the disorders they discussed.

Dry and clinical, The Neurological Patient in History is very much a special interest piece. Thought-provoking and illuminating in its way, but not as comprehensive as I would have liked. 

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The experience of nervous disease can affect all aspects of an individual's persona, and can permeate the social nexus within which he or she lives. In this respect the neurological patient shares much in common with those who suffer from other kinds of illness. But neuological disease has a peculiar capacity to strike at the core of what in Western culture is taken to constitute personal identity, social status, and competence - indeed even what it is to be human.
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