Alternative Medicine?: A History

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Hailed as "elegant and engaging" and "a fascinating journey from east to west and back again" (Financial Times), this fascinating volume offers a sweeping comparative account of alternative medicine over four hundred years. Comparing the medical systems of China, India, and the west (both mainstream and alternative), historian Roberta Bivins ranges across the centuries and the continents, mapping the transmission of medical expertise from one culture to another and laying bare the roots of today's distinctions between alternative, complementary, and orthodox medicine. Bivins uses a wealth of illuminating and entertaining historical examples—from horse-racing English earls to desperate missionaries in 17th-century Indonesia, and from hypnotism in the British Raj to homeopathy in the American Wild West—to underscore the vital point that the cross-cultural transmission of medical knowledge and expertise, even alternative medical knowledge and expertise, is not a uniquely contemporary phenomenon, but has a long and fascinating pedigree. Anyone interested in meditation, acupuncture, herbal supplements, T'ai Chi, and so on will find in this volume a wealth of fascinating information on alternative and traditional medicine.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Lisa A Ennis, MA, MS (University of Alabama at Birmingham)
Description: Written by Roberta Bivins, Wellcome Lecturer in the History of Medicine at Cardiff University, this is a fascinating examination of the historical arguments for and against alternative medicine as well as the methods and means of the transmission of medical knowledge between cultures.
Purpose: Drawing from her own childhood experiences as inspiration, the author skillfully explores the "processes of medical and historical change through the eyes of the medical professionals and consumers of the day," from the seventeenth into the twentieth century. The author's adept use of primary resources and extended quotes and examples allows her to show how alternative medical techniques and ideas traveled from culture to culture as well as to delve into the reactions and motivations of both medical professionals and consumers. The work fills a void in medical and social history by not only examining alternative medicine but by examining it within social and cultural spheres.
Audience: The author's work is scholarly both in content and structure while being accessible to both professional historians and students. With such a timely topic and such a well researched and written work, the quality of the scholarship should not be a barrier.
Features: Organized into six lengthy chapters as well as an in-depth annotated further reading section, the book covers both the mainstream and alternative medical worlds of Western Europe, China, and India. Peppered throughout are 24 illustrations, beginning with one from 1503 and ending with an advertisement from 1909.
Assessment: This well written and painstakingly researched book would enhance any history of medicine collection.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199543762
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/20/2010
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 917,832
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Roberta Bivins is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Warwick.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xvi

Introduction: 'Rival System of Medicine'? 1

1 'What is this Burning?' 41

2 Health and 'The New Science' 79

3 'The Chinese Have a Great Deal of Wit' 107

4 'With Our Western Brethren, the Case Seems to be Quite Different' 135

Conclusion: Pragmatism, Pluralism, and the (Im) Patient-Consumer 171

Further Reading 201

Notes 209

Index 225

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