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FROM THE MIND INTO THE BODY by Edward Shorter

FROM THE MIND INTO THE BODY

The Cultural Origins of Psychosomatic Symptoms

By Edward Shorter

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1993
ISBN: 0-02-928666-2
Publisher: Free Press

 Lively, anecdote-filled account of how culture interacts with biology to produce different sets of psychosomatic symptoms in different groups of people. In this companion volume to From Paralysis to Fatigue (1992), which looked at changing fashions in psychosomatic illness, Shorter (History/University of Toronto) focuses on such cultural factors as social class, gender, ethnicity, and age. He considers each in turn, looking initially at psychosomatic behavior in the ``comfortable classes,'' where leisure first permitted invalidism to flower. As for gender differences, women do appear to have more psychosomatic illnesses than men: Shorter's view is that women may find such illness one way of coping with their greater burden of life's unhappiness. The ethnic group Shorter chooses to consider most closely is East European Jewry, but he fails to demonstrate persuasively the influence of ethnicity on psychosomatic illness, since the taint of anti-Semitism, to which he's sensitive, makes many accounts suspect. The author is more convincing when he turns to the factor of age, focusing on anorexia nervosa, which occurs almost exclusively among young females in Western Europe and North America. By putting the disease into historical context, Shorter illustrates how both culture and biology come into play in producing this phenomenon, and he opens up the fascinating issue of how medicine itself shapes psychosomatic illness by conferring legitimacy on certain symptoms. Devotees of medical lore will find this a treasure trove.