Body Silent

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1990-09-01 Paperback New

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Winner of the Columbia University Lionel Trilling Award. Robert Murphy was in the prime of his career as an anthropologist when he felt the first symptom of a malady that would ultimately take him on an odyssey stranger than any field trip to the Amazon: a tumor of the spinal cord that progressed slowly and irreversibly into quadriplegia. In this gripping account, Murphy explores society's fears, myths, and misunderstandings about disability, and the damage they inflict. He reports how paralysis—like all disabilities—assaults people's identity, social standing, and ties with others, while at the same time making the love of life burn even more fiercely.

Author Biography: Robert F. Murphy (1924-1990) was professor of anthropology at Columbia University and the author of many articles and books.

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Editorial Reviews

L. Daniel Myers
[Murphy's] contributions to the popular literature of the disabled will surely rank among the highest to date. —American Anthropologist
Oliver Sacks
The most powerful book of its kind I've ever read.... Extraordinary powers of observation, generalization, and depth.
Library Journal
The author, a well-known cultural and field anthropologist at Columbia University, was diagnosed as having an incurable spinal cord tumor in 1976 at age 52. He is now essentially paralyzed from the neck down. Within this frameworkin which his physical self of locomotion and effect loses all functionhe relates his own odyssey into ``selfhood and sentiment.'' Far more than a bittersweet first-person account of chronic illness, this is a masterfully written examination of the role of the disabled in society. The author draws upon the relevant literature, history, sociology, anthropology, and psychology as a basis for his views and his means of coping. This powerful and eye-opening commentary is highly recommended for social scientists, health care personnel, and informed and interested laypersons. Mark L. Dembert, M.D., Navy Environmental Health Ctr., Norfolk, Va.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393307023
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/1990
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 242
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.27 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Table of Contents


Prologue—Night Sounds

I. In the Beginning

Signs and Symptoms

The Road to Entropy

The Return

II. Body, Self, and Society

The Damaged Self


The Struggle for Autonomy

III. On Living

The Deepening Silence

Love and Dependency

There's No Cure for Life



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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2000

    Disibility means reliance on others

    Ten years ago since the American Disabilities Act went into effect, the disabled still feel that they are isolated from the real world. Former professor of anthropology at Columbia University Robert F. Murphy examines from his personal perspective the life of a disabled person in a world where he was independent and zealous of life. The reader will discover what it is like for a disabled person to battle besides the inability to carry out everyday function we take for granted. The Body Silent is unlike other books written by the disable. The Body Silent is an excellent book full of prose and not journal entries of how fortunate the non-disabled really are. This book (recommended to me by anthropologist Dr. James Trostle) will change your perspective and outlook on how it is like to grow up again and learning how to walk, one step at a time.

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