A lively, entertaining, and well-documented introduction to the history of unconventional medicine in the US over the past two centuries.
Whorton, who teaches a consciousness-raising course on alternative approaches to healing at the Univ. of Washington School of Medicine, neither condemns nor recommends these practices but seeks a further entente between orthodox and alternative medicine through increasing each group’s understanding of the other. Alternative medicine has had a long and colorful history in the US, and Whorton’s fair-minded account is filled with fascinating details of its conflicts with mainstream medicine. He explores the roots, foreign and domestic, of various alternative systems, their shared values, their common perceptions of orthodox medicine, and the reasons behind mainstream medicine’s efforts to suppress their activities. While some nonstandard approaches to healing are widely familiar today—chiropractic, acupuncture, and Christian Science, for example—Whorton brings to light some long-forgotten ones. Who but a medical historian recalls Thomsonianism, developed by a New Hampshire farmer whose regimen relied on botanicals and the inducement of vomiting and sweating? Or hydropathy, which employed copious amounts of water both inside and out? Whorton gives these and other therapies a historic context, relating them to the political thought and social movements of their times. Especially interesting is the story of how osteopathy, once scorned by orthodox medicine, has gradually been absorbed by it. In his conclusion, Whorton notes that the redesignation of some unconventional approaches as “complementary medicine” and the emergence of “integrative medicine” indicate a growing recognition that alternative approaches of various types may indeed have something to offer in balancing the treatments offered by conventional medicine.
While health-care professionals are the primary audience, there’s much here to interest and perhaps amaze anyone who has ever been a patient.