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Sturdy research and subtle analysis of these extreme cases produce some startling insights into human suffering.

The story of hypochondria through the lens of a few of its famous sufferers.

Though the concept has evolved over the centuries, its victims have continued to suffer horribly and to make enormous demands on others. The hypochondrium, the area of the abdomen housing the liver, gall bladder and other organs, was initially conceived as the seat of human melancholy and, in that quaint term, the vapors. As Cabinet magazine U.K. editor Dillon (In the Dark Room: A Journey in Memory, 2005) demonstrates, it is not difficult to see how the term has transformed to mean what it has today. He playfully defines hypochondriacs as “other people,” then offers a more generic definition: persons who suspect that diseases—or mental illness—have moved in permanently. He examines the cases of nine cultural celebrities from more than two centuries, including Boswell, Darwin, Proust and Warhol. In each of the essays he covers much of the same ground, including the person’s family history, symptoms, treatments (from physicians and others), death and, finally, the significance. The author includes excerpts from letters, diaries and other biographies and books by physicians, psychologists and quacks from all relevant periods. He also identifies a problem inherent in his analysis: Because medical knowledge and terminology have changed dramatically, it’s very difficult to tell exactly what, if anything, was ailing Charlotte Brontë, Darwin, Alice James and others. Nonetheless, he dives into their stories and turns up some intriguing facts and trends, though he addresses diet insufficiently—with the exception of Proust and Andy Warhol, both eccentric eaters. The cumulative effect of these stories is a surpassing sadness—poor Glenn Gould and others, retreating from a world in which they could not adequately function.

Sturdy research and subtle analysis of these extreme cases produce some startling insights into human suffering.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-86547-920-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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