Friday, January 11, 2008

"Alternative Medicine?"

New from Oxford University Press: Alternative Medicine?: A History by Roberta Bivins.

About the book, from the publisher:
Walk into your local health food shop or pick up the local paper, and youll 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.