A humorous take on chronic low back pain, light enough to be held in one hand by anyone lying in traction or otherwise immobilized on a bed of pain. Spengler, a German historian and sinologist and author of the novel Lenin's Brain (1993), has produced 24 gentle essays on the disconcerting, embarrassing, funny, and painful business of living with a bad back. He traces the origins of his own problem to his brief career as an army pallbearer and the arduous rehearsals required for ``Operation Adenauer''--carrying water-filled radiators in preparation for a heavy state coffin. While state funerals might not seem the stuff of humor, Spengler proves otherwise. Back-straining romantic interludes, psychotherapy sessions (``Book and back, that's interesting,'' the therapist notes. ``They even sound alike, and both have a spine.''), mountain climbing, lunch with a film producer, an encounter with a rigorous healer whose technique combined his own manipulations with his mother's prayers, a visit with a Chinese patriarch requiring performance of innumerable full-body kowtows--all are fodder for the brain of the erudite, literate, and well-traveled Spengler, who tells story after self-deprecating little story with style and wit. Especially vivid is his description of traveling to Texas to meet his American translator and being taken out for barbecue and introduced to hot sauce and some high-stepping line dancing, the latter of which had remarkable, if temporary, pain-killing effects. While it is by no means necessary to have suffered from back pain to enjoy Spengler's delightful essays, this would be the perfect gift for anyone who ever has.