Friday, February 15, 2008

Pg. 99: Roberta Bivins' "Alternative Medicine? A History"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Roberta Bivins' Alternative Medicine? A History.

About the book, from the publisher:
Walk into your local health food shop or pick up the local paper, and you'll see ads for meditation, acupuncture, herbal supplements, Tai Chi classes, homeopaths, faith healers, and Chinese herbalists. But what exactly is alternative medicine? Is the astonishing popularity of alternative and multicultural medicine really such a recent development?

Comparing the medical systems of China, India, and the west (both mainstream and alternative), this volume ranges across four centuries and many 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. Historian Roberta Bivens 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. Through comparisons of different medical innovations and importations across different cultures, the book illuminates the twin processes of medical and historical change as seen through the eyes of the medical professionals and consumers of the day. It traces for example the responses in nineteenth-century India to two western alternative medicines (homeopathy and mesmerism) and one staple of mainstream western medicine (germ theory).

Given the success of modern biomedical science, why are alternative and traditional treatments now so fashionable? This fascinating volume sheds light on this trend as it offers a sweeping comparative account of alternative medicine over four hundred years.
Among the praise for Alternative Medicine? A History:
"Cross-cultural history at its best--lively, acute, richly informative, and wonderfully revealing."
--Roger Cooter, Wellcome Trust Center for the History of Medicine, University College London

"Bivins' history is a provocative, far-sighted take on a long-debated subject."
--Publishers Weekly

"Extremely engaging... an imaginative, elegantly written and well constructed account, combining accessibility with good scholarship in the best possible way."
--Carsten Timmermann, University of Manchester

"Ground breaking... Roberta Bivins demonstrates the complex routes that medical knowledge and practice travelled, east to west, north to south, and back again... and disrupts our contemporary notions of "alternative" medicine."
--Allan M. Brandt, author of The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America

"I recommend this book to anyone with more than a passing interest in 'alternative' medicine."
--Edzard Ernst, author of The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine

"Roberta Bivins does a much-needed service to history and medicine by demonstrating that 'alternative medicine' is nothing new, but is as old as the first globalizing exchanges between Europe and Asia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Medicine has seldom been so powerfully presented in its diverse cultural and changing historical contexts. A fascinating and richly illuminating book."
--David Arnold, University of Warwick

"[an] elegant and engaging book...Bivins takes us on a fascinating journey from east to west and back again."
--Financial Times

"This compact, densely written history effectively demonstrates how alternative medicine has survived and prospered in the 21st century."
--The Independent

"A fascinating read... illuminating book."
--Nayanah Siva, New Scientist

Learn more about Alternative Medicine? A History at the Oxford University Press website, and visit Roberta Bivins' faculty webpage to read about her research and other publications.

Bivins is Wellcome Lecturer in the History of Medicine at Cardiff University.

The Page 99 Test: Alternative Medicine? A History.

--Marshal Zeringue