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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Philip W. Leon, PhD (The Citadel)
Description: A web search for "homeopathy" reveals over 1,700,000 hits dealing with the medical approach long thought relegated to the ash heap along with phrenology and patent medicine. John S. Haller Jr.'s book presents a thorough history of homeopathy and its struggle for recognition in America. He includes valuable discussions of homeopathy's origins in German Romanticism, its chief proponent, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), its popularity with prominent Americans, and its surrender to allopathic medicine. He introduces the reader to the many homeopathic colleges and journals that briefly flourished in an effort to legitimize this alternative to what Haller calls "regular" medicine.
Purpose: Haller seeks "to build on the contributions of past and contemporary scholarship by studying the manner in which academic homeopathy developed during medicine's introspective age of doubt and the emergent period of scientific reductionism." Despite homeopathy's differences with the prevailing allopathic treatments, the movement was decidedly American in its spirit of individuality and inquiry — its willingness to attempt something new. Haller clearly explains Hahnemann's guiding principle of similia similibus curantur, or like cures like. Homeopathic doctors claimed that the "principle of similars" was the key to healing, whereas allopathic doctors subscribed to the ancient Galenic principle of contraria contrariis curantur, different cures different. In contrast to regular doctors who wanted to induce in patients evidence of dramatic reaction to medicine — vomiting, purging, bleeding, sweating — homeopaths were minimalists, using the smallest doses of medicine to overpower disease.
Audience: Haller is a professor of history at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, specializing in courses in American intellectual history and the history of medicine, and he is a past editor of Caduceus, A Journal for the Medical Humanities. He does not seek to convert readers to homeopathy, nor does he call for a return to this system. He treats his subject with respect but not endorsement. To his credit, he skillfully does not attempt to demonstrate the merits of one system over another, but he objectively draws the battle lines and depicts the sometimes bitter skirmishes between the two 19th century schools of medical thought. Medical professionals will profit from his extensive documentation and clear prose.
Features: Three important features emerge from the lengthy book. The first is the story of how homeopathy came to America, where it flourished (and did not) and why, who the important doctors were who championed the movement, and the nature of medical training at the various homeopathic colleges. The second, equally interesting, is the battle between the American Institute of Homeopathy and the American Medical Association and their allies at colleges, journals, and professional organizations. Allopaths were better organized, more firmly entrenched politically and socially, and had a larger arsenal at their disposal in the battle with the homeopaths, although ultimately advances in bacteriology and the new scientific breakthroughs of the germ theorists brought homeopathy to the point of surrender. The third feature is Haller's discussion of the famous Americans who received homeopathic treatment: Horace Greeley, Cyrus W. Field, Samuel F. B. Morse, Henry W. Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Henry Ward Beecher, Edwin Booth, and President Chester A. Arthur.
Assessment: Haller's book should be read by practitioners of medicine and pharmacology for its intrinsic value as a historical account of the forces that shaped their professions. The author is not quite ready to throw the last shovelful on the grave of homeopathy, acknowledging — and this is important to contemporary practitioners — that it is quietly alive among lay persons interested in holistic and herbal medicines, women's health advocacy, chiropractic, New Age and other alternatives to regular medicine. Medical professionals need to know that homeopathy still attracts many followers.