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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

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  846 ratings  ·  141 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 an

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 17th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
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
Dec 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2010
this book was a chronic 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, &am
Jul 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
The Rainbow Zebra
Jul 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: see review
Recommended to The Rainbow Zebra 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.
Sep 05, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jan 03, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Alyssa Foll
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, informative read on the chronic illness of pain. I appreciated how Melanie Thernstrom was able to weave her own story of pain into the material, but it never felt that it was overshadowing the research or stories from other chronic pain sufferers.
I would recommend this book for a fuller picture of chronic pain and its treatments. Thernstrom does a great job exploring medicine, alternative medicine, as well as exploring religious aspects of suffering and meaning making.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, considering I just picked it off the shelf at random (the shelf wasn't random, though). I don't care that the Babylonians thought that toothaches were caused by magic worms sent by the gods, and the writing started out too lyrical for my taste. But once the book got into modern times, I was fascinated. It answered questions a friend and I had just been asking about the genesis of modern drugs (Tylenol was a pharmacist's mistake, and willow bark (a ...more
Apr 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Julie Hilden
Apr 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Kyle Wendy Skultety (
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
Sep 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Cat Jenkins
Sep 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
It wasn't long ago that scientists believed 'animals don't feel pain.' This benighted statement was roundly disproved, of course. But the same kind of arrogant, ignorant, self-important, mewling idiocy ruined this book for me.

Ms. Thernstrom bleats her opinion that animals don't suffer as humans do. That only the almighty human animal is capable of questioning the reasons for the pain inflicted on it. So, where in hell does this writer get the idea that she knows what animals think? Experience? S
Lisa I.
Jun 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Sep 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 is currently reading it

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!
Mackenzie Cheeseman
Sep 15, 2010 rated it liked it
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).
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-novel
A little surprised to see the harshness of some reviews on here! So in the interest of expectation-setting: this book reads more like a piece of extended journalism than a self-help book or poetic memoir, so if it’s answers you’re looking for, you will no doubt be disappointed. If, however, you fancy learning about the science of pain, along with some history of religion and a few anecdotal interludes, then you and this book will get on well. I really enjoyed it, especially as I’m not a huge non ...more
Aug 01, 2018 rated it liked it
We all experience physical pain in our lives, some chronic pain. I have been fortunate enough for the most part not have had to deal with the daily chronic type. But if we live long enough that is more likely. Today the focus is very much on pain relief and the resultant opioid addiction we see so much in the news.

In this book, which I listened to as audio Melanie Ternstrom discusses and picks apart at length her life experience with pain that stemmed from her shoulder. It is much discussion and
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Imagine, if you will, life before anesthesia when soldiers routinely underwent amputations and women, mastectomies without any numbing of the pain. And yet people thought that this suffering served a purpose. When ether was first used in surgeries, the Christians fought against it, citing Biblical passages such as Eve's punishment to bring forth children in pain. And though now we know that acute pain does serve a purpose: to warn the body of an illness or injury, chronic pain, on the other hand ...more
Abigail Smith
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
I would have given this a higher rating due to the thorough presentation of researched information and personal perspective, which I found interesting, but I found myself consistently annoyed by the author's voice, which seemed immature, whiny, and self-obsessed at times.
Hazel Rainfall
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is an interesting and unique read (in a not very good way). I don't recommend this book for people suffering with pain.
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
The first third or so I wasn't crazy about, it was too much of a memoir without enough science. But then it hit its stride and became really fascinating.
Saima Tisha
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
ইহা একটি অতি সুখপাঠয বই! লেখক বযাথার নাড়িনকষতর টান দিয়েছেন ডযান বরাউন সটাইলে। বযাথার সবরূপ খুজেছেন মেডিকেশন, অনিসথেসিয়া, ফিজিকযাল থেরাপি থেকে সাইকোলজি, ধরমতততবে। ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it liked it
The writing improved as the author lost sight of herself and focused more on the science.
Teo 2050
~5.5h @ 2x. (I review this from the viewpoint of not having been in chronic pain. For someone who seeks more personal help, this book might not be very dense or efficient. Nor is it the most hopeful book imaginable, with the grim history of anesthesia & all, but it might offer new perspectives for those with patience.)

I don't expect to find a more multiperspective audiobook on pain & suffering for a good while. This was a wide, yet surprisingly smooth-flowing spectrum of personal experie
Mar 02, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jun 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Toni Moore
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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