A literate investigation of asthma from just about every conceivable angle. Brookes (Creative Writing and Media Criticism/Univ. of Vermont), an asthma sufferer since age 11, opens with an intense account of a 1991 attack that nearly ended his life. When doctors in five different medical fields could not answer his questions, he undertook his own inquiry into this chronic illness that kills more than 5,000 Americans yearly. Although he refers to his work as a ""possibly compulsive self-examination,"" Brookes is also a journalist who knows how to research a subject. He reads widely in the medical literature, he persuades a thoracic surgeon to let him watch an operation so that he can better understand the lungs, and he tags along with a mobile health unit in New York City as it treats asthmatic children in a welfare hotel. He also reports on his reluctant venture into homeopathic medicine and on a rather unsatisfactory consultation with a psychic. Progress reports on his own health are slipped in among engaging and informative essays on the various types of asthma, its possible causes, the range of treatments that have been offered (yoga, acupuncture, hypnotism, cockroach tea, to name only a few), patient compliance, doctor-patient relations, the cost of drugs, health insurance, and the experience of illness. One need not have asthma or even know someone with the disease to appreciate this free-ranging exploration of the subject, but certainly asthmatics and their families -- possibly even their doctors -- will be enlightened. However, aside from the fact that Brookes seems to be managing his condition quite well at the book's end, they will not find it particularly reassuring: Little is known about asthma, the author reminds us, and there are treatments, but no cure. Strong reporting, nicely balanced between the subjective and the objective.