Anne Harrington's The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine is an academic yet accessible look at the interaction of mind and body around illness. Harrington is a professor and chair of Harvard's History of Science Department, and she takes an interesting look at history of mind-body medicine in Europe and the U.S.
Harrington begins by laying out a framework for history, which she organizes into six story lines, or narratives. "The Power of Suggestion" begins with exorcisms of demons by the Church and ends in hypnosis; "The Body That Speaks" takes off from hypnosis and segues into psychosomatic medicine; "The Power of Positive Thinking" traces the history of the placebo effect; "Broken By Modern Life" is the story of stress; "Healing Ties" traces the history of positive effects of community involvement on health; and "Eastward Journeys" tells of the influence of Buddhism and Yoga on modern health practices.
The chapters loosely follow the timeline from the Middle Ages to the present. Each one starts with discoveries and understandings of phenomena and follows with contemporary reactions and re-framing, usually ending with the notion that what seemed to be true at the beginning of the chapter really
isn't. This set-up works fine for chapters where there is a stable and modern understanding of a phenomenon, like hypnosis, but is somewhat unsettling in the later chapters. As Harrington says, when she reaches the point of having discussed "so many mind-body narratives serving so many functions" in her classes, her students want to know, "Which of them are true?" Alas, Professor Harrington does not say.
The problem with writing history when it's still being made is that the historian can't come to any real conclusions. The jury is still out about how the body and the mind interact around illness and what we can do about it. Harrington has done a service in giving structure to the subject and showing how the body's reaction is influenced by the social milieux, but the book ultimately disappoints. Perhaps this is as true an indicator that this book is academic as the copious notes and lengthy bibliography. Nevertheless, The Cure Within is a fascinating look at a hot subject. Just don't expect it to answer any questions for you.