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Encyclopedic, but disorderly. British science writer and television editor Fairley sets out to review what has been done to ease or eradicate pain in the past, what we now know about the psychology and physiology of pain, and the conventional and unconventional treatments in existence or in the offing. His problem is sorting and arranging the material. An introductory chapter on the nature of pain includes a 15-page extract from a major paper in Brain by Patrick Wall describing a revision to the Gate Theory of Pain Control, complete with neuro-anatomical terms and sites; two chapters later the reader is awash in juicy anecdotes of famous sufferers (Napoleon plagued by hemorrhoids at Waterloo; Queen Anne on her deathbed; Roosevelt stricken with polio). And so it goes. Useful information on attempts to measure pain, an interesting survey of how hospital patients describe their pain (and their attitudes toward it), solid information about the latest surgical treatments--preceded or followed by purple prose describing the ether or nitrous oxide parties of the 19th century, the rivalries of famous names in anaesthesia, the opium addictions of Coleridge and Wilkie Collins. A twice-too-long chapter on aspirin features the Reverend Edward Stone sampling willow bark in England and a cast of dozens. A chapter with cut-and-dried descriptions of a wide variety of analgesics is rendered frustrating for the American reader by British trade names. Finally, in the last chapter, Fairley gets around to the recent exciting discovery of the endomorphins, the brain chemicals important in mediating and moderating pain sensation. Here he also describes techniques of electrical stimulation and other therapies now available at some pain clinics. With so much good raw material, it's regrettable that no one has seen fit to assemble it in palatable form.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1980
Publisher: Scribners