NATURE CURES by James C. Whorton

by JF

This is a chronicle of the different schools of alternative health that proliferated in America in the early 1800s, their sagging popularity in the first half of the 1900s, and their surprising resurgence today, a resurgence which began in the late 1970s. While not an exhaustive tome (it’s a little over 400 pages) it is quite informative and most American readers will find themselves almost completely ignorant of this history.

The alternative health schools discussed include Thomsonianism (a system of botanical purging), homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic, hydrotherapy, and naturopathy. Turns out, the 1800s was something of a renaissance era for alternative medical thought, and each of these burgeoning schools, and most especially all of them together, presented a serious threat to the mainstream allopathic medical monopoly of the time.

The author is quite reasonable, quite measured in his presentation of each school, and indeed of allopathy as well–perhaps to a fault, as the author assumes in several places Pasteur’s Germ Theory and the efficacy of vaccinations to be scientifically valid. Yet even here Whorton acknowledges the merit of the naturopathic and anti-Pasteurian view that “the microbe is nothing, the terrain is all.” Whorton concludes his history by recording the modern trend of integrating allopathic and alternative health therapies.

This is indeed an estimable account of the history of American medical beliefs and practices.

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