Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The Illness Narratives

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 11 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e251
  1. Oliver D Starr, general practitioner, Chells Surgery, Stevenage SG2 0HN, UK
  1. oliverstarr{at}

You could be forgiven for thinking this book was written in 2011. An epidemic of chronic pain, a sense of existential doom pervading society, and patients presenting with ever more weird and wonderful neurological symptoms that just don’t add up. Not to mention the doctors: deprofessionalised, exhausted, and helpless in the face of a workload increasingly made up of “medically unexplained symptoms.”

But this is the 1980s. And Kleinman, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, is drawing on his interviews and research across years of contact with patients in the United States and China.

We meet Howie, a giant of a man, a veteran of the Korean war, crippled …

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