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The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives

3.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  123 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
Charlotte Brontë found in her illnesses, real and imagined, an escape from familial and social duties, and the perfect conditions for writing. The German jurist Daniel Paul Schreber believed his body was being colonized and transformed at the hands of God and doctors alike. Andy Warhol was terrified by disease and by the idea of disease. Glenn Gould claimed a friendly pat ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 2nd 2010 by Faber & Faber (first published 2009)
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Steven Stimach
Dec 13, 2012 Steven Stimach rated it liked it
I generally don't write many reviews, but several of the low scores for this book spurred my to put something together. Brian Dillon's study of disease and hypochondria through the characters of nine literary figures presents an interesting and illuminating read with one major caveat that has led to it receiving such low-scoring reviews.

This is not a scientific or medical study.

If you are expecting someone who is going to give a detailed account and diagnoses based upon modern standards and the
Jennah Ferrara
Jul 10, 2010 Jennah Ferrara rated it it was amazing
Currently reading: have finished half of the chapters. One British critic described it as a book one reads slowly to fully consider Dillon's writing and to postpone finishing the book: "There is no higher compliment." I fully agree. Each sentence is crafted masterfully and depicts the affect of hypochondria on the lives and creativity of the subjects. I've been fascinated with medical history for more than 20 years, and this book is engaging beyond belief, especially if the reader is particularl ...more
Nov 13, 2012 Ainsley rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I am surprised that this book has such a relatively low rating. Each study is deftly written, and I found the chapters on Florence Nightingale, Alice James and Glenn Gould particularly elegant. I respectfully suggest that any reader who wonders why some of these individuals were included in this book would do well to read it again and reflect on the changing conceptions of hypochondria.
Apr 04, 2010 Darryl rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Tormented Hope, which was on the shortlist for the 2009 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, is a history of hypochondria, as told through the lives of nine noted people who were diagnosed with the disorder in their lifetimes: James Boswell, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Alice James, Daniel Paul Schreber, Marcel Proust, Glenn Gould and Andy Warhol. The author uses written personal accounts of these individuals and biographies about them, along with past and current medical litera ...more
Jenny Brown
Nov 19, 2010 Jenny Brown rated it did not like it
The author's ignorance of medicine and psychiatry makes his heavy handed attempts to force his subjects into the diagnosis "hypochondriac" annoying and unconvincing and turns into a show case for his eclectic study of the use of the term through history without teaching us anything about the effect of imaginary illness or the people he victimizes.

Many of his "hypochondriacs" like Boswell are going through normal periods of depression. Others are psychotic or like Glen Gould sound autistic. Quite
Jan 05, 2013 Pris rated it liked it
This book is a brief biography of 9 artists, most of them writers, and how they survived and coped with their supposed hypochondria. It is not a book about hypochondria, but more of the lives of the 9 artists chosen by the author to illustrate the degree of their hypochondria as evident in their memoirs, letters, diaries, essays, novels, autobiographies, and others' writings ("testimonies") about them. The author's purpose in writing the book was to illustrate the "history of hypochondria", thou ...more
Oct 05, 2012 Christina rated it it was ok
You know how sometimes there is a book that does a great job of telling a story, in an easy to follow manner? This is not that book.

Even though the content was really interesting, his way of telling it was so uncomfortable that I found myself dreading to pick it up to read it. I persevered for two chapters but still couldn't find any pleasure in reading it. And that's coming from a psychologist who probably has a medical chart out there somewhere with a big "HYPOCHONDRIAC" label stuck on it.
Sep 19, 2010 Pat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very insightful account of 9 hypochondriac lives - Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Andy Warhol featuring among them. I found Andy Warhol's story particularly sad as was the afterword on Michael Jackson, although the author manages to write about these people in an incredibly respectful way.
Justin Smith
Aug 03, 2013 Justin Smith rated it liked it
Interesting, very interesting. I thought every story would read like a textbook; I was pleased to discover the author managed to make it more story-like.
May 02, 2012 Theresa rated it liked it
Not too bad, interesting profiles. Unfortunately the people were really sick characters, if not always physically sick.
Carole Tyrrell
This book features 9 famous and reputed hypochondriacs: Andy Warhol, Marcel Proust, Florence
Nightingale, Glenn Gould, Charles Darwin, Charlotte Bronte, James Boswell, Daniel Schreber and Alice James and tells their struggles with their conditions and how illness affected their lives.
Spike Milligan's famous epitaph 'I told you I was ill' runs through this book. A study of 9 people who seemed to make a career, and almost a virtue, out of being ill. The manipulation and use of ill-health to keep t
Apr 25, 2010 Diane rated it liked it
I only read about 3/4 of this book - which is interesting, but written in a prose style that didn't carry me forward very well, intelligent as it nevertheless was. Fascinating bit in the Florence Nightingale chapter about the 19th century figure of the dandy, because the descriptions sounded just like Michael Jackson to me (p 121 and following, if you read it). WIth the examples from earlier centuries I kept wondering if they had undiagnosed conditions such as Crohn's, or something similar - so ...more
Jun 18, 2015 Liz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Eh. Each chapter is a review of writings of or writings about one person - Andy Warhol, or Charles Darwin, for example - who were consumed by their health, mortality, and otherwise labeled "hypochondriac." Too many paragraphs made my skin start to crawl as I found myself asking the same kind of questions as the person in question - and honestly large sections of this book are either stomach-turning or boring.
Feb 28, 2013 Joana rated it liked it
Este livro contém uma série de ensaios sobre as vidas atormentadas pela hipocondria de nove personalidades: de Charles Darwin passando por Marcel Proust, encontramos Charlotte Brontë e Andy Warhol, entre outros. Não é uma obra de leitura fácil, por vezes tornando-se massuda e pesada, especialmente se considerarmos os factos e as interpretações que o autor faz de cada caso. Quem procura neste livro de Brian Dillon um tratado médico, fica certamente desapontado. Para quem se interessa pelas interp ...more
Kirsten Hivon
Oct 27, 2013 Kirsten Hivon rated it liked it
I was going to give this book a one when I first started it but it's made it to three because, although I didn't finish all the stories, the one's I did finish made me so annoyed and angry at these people that if I had finished the book, I probably would have torn it into pieces in rage, and I doubt the library that I borrowed it from would be too happy about that! The point I'm trying to make is that it made me feel something, even if that something was rage and anger and annoyance at these peo ...more
Feb 27, 2011 Marion rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


- From the late Middle Ages onwards, this remarkably specific and consistent notion appears time and again in the literature on melancholia and hypochondria. The patient /.../ fancies that he or she is made of glass, either in part or in whole.

- Into the drama of his physical degradation is drafted a cast of "little men" who attempt, he says, to pump out his spinal cord; a considerable quantity of it emerges from his mouth in the form of small cloud, especially when he is walking in the g
Nick Davies
DNF - Unfortunately, despite quite a lot of effort to persist with this, I ultimately found it disappointing. The idea was a very interesting one - to examine the influence of hypochondria on the lives of several famous people - but I felt that in execution the idea proved to be less readable than it might've been. Such an ill-defined (if you pardon the pun) condition failed to join the nine mini-biographies together with a strong theme, and it just ended up making the reader unsympathetic - the ...more
Jun 18, 2016 Alexis rated it really liked it
Very entertaining. Also an intriguing insight into anxiety and the power of the mind
hardly a profound volume, but I enjoyed the chapter on Daniel Schreber
Aug 07, 2012 Mariah rated it did not like it
Painfully boring. Dillon is not writing to amuse the common folks here... what is this, his doctoral thesis or something? Back stories on Boswell, etc. would be useful for us ordinary folks before we get the details from scores of materials Dillon clearly researched with the fervor of a mad professor who has lost touch with the outside world. He could revisit his studies regarding conciseness, though. Blah, blah, blah. These are interesting people and he has made them tedious.
Jun 14, 2015 Hannelore rated it liked it
Shelves: my-library
Overall an interesting read. However the author goes frequently on tangent back stories that sometimes make it hard to follow.
Jul 05, 2015 Wendy rated it liked it
Interesting, but a little dry. The last two chapters were the best.
Sep 29, 2011 Simon rated it liked it
Author's voice is a little odd, maybe too literary or aggressively "artistic" for what's more or less a biography, but it seems to work pretty well. Your enjoyment of individual chapters will probably relate to what you think of the person being profiled. I'm a big Brontë fan, so I liked that one, but can't stand Boswell, so that chapter mostly annoyed me.
Sep 05, 2011 Meghan rated it did not like it
Shelves: pleasure-reading
The author tried to link these historical figures together through their shared symptoms of hypochondria, but then chose to focus and explain every symptom of psychological disorder except for hypochondria. The book was instead a showcase for depression and anxiety.
Courtney Johnston
Jun 05, 2011 Courtney Johnston rated it it was ok
Fascinating in parts (the descriptions, in particular, of how Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin used their 'illnesses' to control access to themselves and to limit their public and family obligations) overall the book doesn't just doesn't hang together.
Aug 10, 2010 Paul rated it liked it
A modest diversion, thoughtfully presented, in which the author traces the development of a disorder through short biographies of some of its more famous sufferers. Each brief 'life' can be read independently, perfect for train rides.
May 29, 2011 Esther rated it did not like it
Line-up nine very unique and accomplished people, certainly eccentric, some crazy not all hypochondriacs. There is no scientific justification for this group classification, but the author does share interesting history along the way.
Diane W
Apr 13, 2015 Diane W rated it did not like it
I couldn't finish this book...hence the 1 star. I realize the subject is a serious one but must admit I think I chose the book for its cover. Just goes to show 'you can't always judge'!
Moira Russell
I should have listened to my good friend the esteemed historian who said this was terrible. GUESS WHAT, it was terrible.
Aug 15, 2010 Sarah rated it really liked it
Interesting, well written, hits very close to home.
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BRIAN DILLON was born in Dublin in 1969. His books include Objects in This Mirror: Essays (Sternberg Press, 2014), Sanctuary (Sternberg Press, 2011), Ruins (MIT Press/Whitechapel Gallery, 2011), Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (Penguin, 2009) and In the Dark Room (Penguin 2005).

His writing appears regularly in the Guardian, the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, Artfor
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