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Books, Journals, New Media
April 14, 1999

HolismGreater Than the Parts: Holism in Biomedicine, 1920-1950

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


Not Available


Copyright 1999 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.1999American Medical Association


by Christopher Lawrence and George Weisz, 366 pp, with illus, $55, ISBN 0-19-510904-X, New York, NY Oxford University Press, 1998.

JAMA. 1999;281(14):1344. doi:10.1001/jama.281.14.1344-JBK0414-5-1

As the various contributions to this volume make clear, holism in medicine represents an essential and complex perspective, pregnant with rhetorical opportunities. Today, a popular but simplistic characterization of biomedicine as analytical, reductionist, and dehumanized is frequently contrasted to other more synthetic, comprehensive, and personalized healing approaches mostly situated outside the mainstream and branded as "alternative."

Far from being a New Age creation of the 1960s, holistic medicine has a long tradition stretching back to classic humoralism and the concept of individual constitution. Long before the rise of pathological anatomy and, later, laboratory medicine, which eroded the authority of bedside medicine, efforts were made to systematize medical knowledge and present a coherent view of the human body in health and disease. This collection of essays, focused on the interwar years of our century, succeeds in presenting a far more nuanced perspective on what one author, Charles Rosenberg, defines as complementary points of view, "part of an interactive fabric of understanding" that keeps shuttling between the particular and the universal in a perennial quest for understanding individual patients within collective frameworks of meaning.

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