The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering
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The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  425 ratings  ·  112 reviews
Each of us will know physical pain in our lives, but none of us knows when it will come or how long it will stay. Today as much as 10 percent of the population of the United States suffers from chronic pain. It is more widespread, misdiagnosed, and undertreated than any major disease. While recent research has shown that pain produces pathological changes to the brain and...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published August 17th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Jeanette
I just don't have it in me to write a proper review of this book. I can't do it objectively, and I'm not in the mood to rant. Not much of a ranter even in the worst of circumstances.

If, like me, you're a chronic pain sufferer whose life has been defined and limited by your condition, you're not likely to find the book comforting or helpful. It's more likely to frustrate or anger you. If you are fortunate enough to be pain-free and want to study pain as a purely intellectual exercise, The Pain C...more
Ciara
this book was a chronic pain...in my ass. i really expected something more out of this book! it had positive reviews in the "new york times" & the "new yorker," & i was really hoping to connect with it, as i have suffered from chronic pain for over thirteen years. but it was such a disappointment.

the book is broken up into five big parts, each of which purports to examine the issue of pain from a slightly different perspective. the first part looks as the religious tradition of pain, &...more
Megan
it was so refreshing to get more information and perspective on pain. all the medical info on pain was fascinating (i didn't realize how pain begets pain, making the whole body more sensitive; how pain destroys your ability to modulate pain on a cellular level, and also causes brain atrophy; or how pain can be JUST PAIN, not a sign of injury or tissue damage).

i also really enjoyed the section on "pain as narrative." the idea of the difference between telic-centralizing (or integrative) and teli...more
Wanda
Sep 15, 2010 Wanda rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: chronic pain patients and their families
Recommended to Wanda by: Times book review
This book has been reviewed very favorably by all of the major reviewer sources, NYT, WSJ and so on. I suspect the reason that it was reviewed at all is that the author is one of their own – a journalist and writer. It also gets glowing reviews on Amazon.
Frankly, I don’t get it. This simply is not a 5 star book. While Melanie Thernstrom does do the public a favor in bringing to their attention the troublesome issue of pain, what we know and don’t know about it, and its mismanagement, it simply i...more
Julie Hilden
Melanie Thernstrom has written brilliant books before -- such as her examination of a murder/suicide at Harvard -- but this may be her very best. I've also very much enjoyed her frequent New York Times articles on pain and other topics. Her writing is consistently interesting and highly insightful, as well as graceful in every sentence. She is especially adept at weaving memoir and personal stories in with topics in intellectual history and science.

I loved THE PAIN CHRONICLES for all the same r...more
Natalie
If you suffer from chronic pain, I do not recommend this book. I imagine that as a subject matter of general interest it might appeal to some. The author takes a look at pain from many cultures, points in history and its place in medicine. She also tries to weave in her own story of suffering from chronic pain. It is a very broad and far reaching endeavor. Unfortunately, as a result, she does not take enough time to truly delve into any of the topics thoroughly. The historical references are so...more
Jenny Brown
When I first started reading this book, it seemed promising, and I had a look at some of the negative reviews posted here and thought that the reviewers were being overly harsh, but about halfway through the book I saw their point.

The author doesn't understand science enough to explain any of the underlying medical concepts in a way that would be helpful to the reader, so she darts around dabbling in this and that, and pulling the whole mess of a book together with a personal memoir so bratty th...more
Christine
This is a fabulous book but would probably only interest those who suffer some sort of intense chronic pain. It has a lot of great information on how the pain of whatever medical condition you may have actually affects you, shares research on pain, goes through the history of pain, and she sites examples of cases.

She also shares her personal history which can be somewhat overdone at times. But the reality is most people who have severe chronic pain feel alone or often despair at least at some p...more
Deena
I began reading this book looking for hope. I was hoping to hear personal stories so I could know I'm not alone in this fight. I wanted to learn about the cutting-edge research being done at leading pain clinics across the country. I wanted to learn alternate coping methods. I also wanted to find ideas/methods to help my family understand what I go through & learn ways to help them cope with it as well.
I started & stopped reading many times. I forced myself to keep reading until I found...more
Kyle Wendy
Well written and meticulously researched, this was one of the most interesting books I've read in a while. The author is a chronic pain sufferer, which explains her interest. The beginning of the book is her story; how she developed the pain and how she lived with it. This part was irritating to me, because she seemed SO wishy washy about how to help herself, and how she felt like she had to hide it from the man (and eventually, other men) in her life. She also did not pursue treatment as aggres...more
Headacheslayer
Dec 05, 2010 Headacheslayer rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: see review
Recommended to Headacheslayer by: Book Club
Will add more to this review soon...

One of the best books I have read EVER. Not just on pain either. Should be required reading for:
Med students
Doctors who treat pain patients
Those who have chronic pain
Those who care for a person in pain.

Fantastic, not dry at all, as a quote on the back suggests, it's almost wrong to love this book so much, given the topic.

I've already recommended it to my doctors and my family--my daughter may go into neuroscience, so this is right up her ally.
Lisa I.
Info was useful in many ways but author spent too much time (for me) in her head, waiting what seemed to be too long to get her own diagnosis and then withholding it from the reader. The basic gist is lots of research is going on but the way we treat pain (massage, physical therapy, shots, surgery) will not markedly change in the near future. What may change unfortunately (from the research of brain imaging) is another way for insurance companies to deny treatment. Fun fun.
Pat Herndon
I found this book terribly difficult to get through. I was interested in the topic because two family members suffer from chronic pain. My heart hurts for them. My perspective on this book is also tempered by my years as a medical librarian. I expected this book to be a layman's version of the state-of-the-art knowledge and understanding of chronic pain and its biological basis, anticipating an expanded version of the type of writing one might encounter in the health section of a major newspaper...more
Janis
Author Melanie Thernstrom knows pain, and intersperses her personal experience as a chronic sufferer while she shares medical, historical, and cultural information on the topic of pain. I especially appreciated her ability to describe the complexitities of the body and brain. A fascinating book.
Gail Mueller
Sep 24, 2012 Gail Mueller is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition


Been having trouble finishing this book myself. In reading the previous reviews, most chronic pain patients are! I feel so much better wondering why I wasn't "getting" it from this author. Maybe she doesn't get it!
Jody Marie
Really interesting... If a little esoteric. Probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't suffer from chronic pain (or love someone who does).
pdxmaven
Think I read a review of this in the paper, and got it from the library. This is one of those situations where an author's own personal life experience then leads them to investigate a topic -- in this case, pain. So the "heavy stuff" on pain is interspersed with the author's own experiences: of having pain, trying to get medical help for her pain, and ultimately coming to acceptance. After a while, I gave up my usual "if you start a book, you gotta finish it all" M.O. for just reading through t...more
Toni Moore
Author Melanie Thernstrom takes us on a journey through her pain. As she struggles to understand her chronic pain and what it means, she explores the history of pain -- how people in the past perceived pain. She examines the meaning of suffering, especially within the framework of religious beliefs. We follow her as she goes from doctor to doctor and then from scientist to scientist in a search for both relief from and understanding of her pain.

While Thernstrom is adept at weaving her various ex...more
Patricia Joynton
Feb 26, 2012 Patricia Joynton rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: special people
Recommended to Patricia by: just browing in bookstore, no recommendation
With so little known about pain, I'm amazed at the number of pages she was able to write. Interesting, the different types of pain (psychogenic, musculoskeletal, neuropathic, inflammatory, acute, chronic...), how the the nerves that transmit the pain, when severed, do not stop the pain. It even makes it worse. And where in the brain does pain occur? Who knows. But we do know pain exists. Historically, we have used pain and defined pain in strange ways: lower classes don't have so much, babies do...more
Michelle Wegner
While this started out to be a promising book about chronic pain, it ended a little disappointing for me. I appreciated Thernstrom's research about how chronic pain has been dealt with in the past, present, and hopefully the future. There were lots of interesting stories throughout the book. I was somewhat frustrated with the end of the book, where she focuses on "Mind over matter" so much. I honestly don't have the time in my life to sit and focus away my pain. If I spent that much time focusin...more
Allyson
I really loved this book, although initially I was inpatient with her self portrayal and unwillingness to accept her pain & seek interventions. But as she so eloquently details throughout her thought provoking and enlightening exploration of chronic pain phenomena, her experience was fairly common. I simply did not share it personally. So many of these pages contained resonating images and familiar scenarios to me, but from my vantage point I am so much luckier than the majority of her inclu...more
Jean
This is a very comprehensive book on pain, almost too technical and historical. Definitely too historical in my opinion, I speed read a lot of that part. However, the rest of the book was very insightful. For anyone who has had to deal with the medical profession from the perspective of a patient you will see yourself in some part of this book. Dealing with pain and illness is difficult but the politics of the medical profession makes it worse.
"..if a doctor does not believe his or her patient,...more
Bookmarks Magazine
The Pain Chronicles is a tale of two books: one a broad-brush study of pain throughout the ages in literature, religion, history, art, and philosophy; the other, remarkable insight into the ravages of pain on the individual and the earnest (if hit-and-miss) efforts of modern science to handle chronic pain. An accomplished science writer, Thernstrom neatly balances her own story within the larger context, dividing the book into sections on pain as metaphor, history, disease, narrative, and percep...more
Katharine Holden
An interesting overview of how pain has been viewed and treated over the centuries, including first-hand accounts of people dealing with chronic pain after injuries, surgeries, or source unknown. The book's chapters are arranged around the author's own experience of chronic pain and the search for a viable diagnosis and treatment plan. The first part of the book features a bit too much of the author's series of extremely insensitive boyfriends - I started skipping at that point - but that doesn'...more
Dan
Excellent insights for anyone with chronic pain and a taste for the philosophical and historical. Essentially a history of the views and attitudes about pain and how it has been treated from the beginning of civilization until today. The author also weaves into this history her personal 10+ year struggle with debilitating pain in her neck and arm (alas, it is never vanquished). It may shock or surprise you to learn that the discovery of unconsciousness-inducing anesthesia was greeted with sheer...more
David
A very important topic presented in a very interesting format. (I "read" this book as an audiobook.) The author presents a history of the treatment of pain in parallel with the history of her own encounter with chronic pain and what she learns along the way in her journey seeking any and almost all modalities for dealing with it. Though this book may be hard for someone without chronic pain to truly grasp, for the many sufferers of chronic pain, it provides a wealth of information from the stand...more
Tracey
Time magazine review - 9/6/10 - 616.0472 T411P 2010 - on hold for 11/15

A mix of science research, historical review and personal journal - Thernstrom uses her own experiences with chronic pain to explore the past, present and future of medical pain treatment.

This kind of book is usually right up my alley, but for some reason I had a hard time staying with it. I can't quite put my finder on it - the research seemed solid (and backed up by footnotes) but for some reason her personal narrative did...more
Anna
As someone who has had chronic pain (more specifically, fibromyalgia) for years, I expected this book to piss me off, as most books written about chronic pain tend to have been written by people who do not have it themselves; though this is not always a problem (see, for example, the work of writers David Morris and Elaine Scarry), the vast majority of books that I’ve read on pain seem to be missing something—more specifically, perspective from the inside of a body in pain. Thernstrom, however,...more
Pamela
This book convinced me of the physiological basis of chronic pain syndrome, which I'm embarrassed to say I didn't quite accept before. Thernstrom is lucid and persuasive about the way a one-time injury or even simply a biological predisposition can trigger a permanent overdrive in the pain-registering areas of the brain. The Pain Chronicles is a book in the tradition of Andrew Solomon's celebrated The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, in that it is empathically alive, beautifully written, h...more
Peggy Hamann
This book delves deep into the history of pain, what may or may not cause it , and how it is treated and perceived by different cultures. being a chronic pain person, I really enjoyed learning about this topic and I have suggested it to a couple of my personal physicians as well!
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