Cover: A Cursing Brain? in PAPERBACK

A Cursing Brain?

The Histories of Tourette Syndrome

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Product Details


$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674003866

Publication Date: 09/01/2000

Academic Trade

320 pages

10 halftones; 2 line illustrations


Kushner follows the winding trail of recurrent ticcing through hysteria and hypnosis, masturbation and moral treatment, through to the still controversial suggestion that Tourette syndrome might be an auto-immune disease that follows streptococcal infection. Having told so many stories, Kushner is well aware that there may be no such unitary entity as Tourette syndrome, although there clearly are many sufferers whose symptoms can be relieved by taking haloperidol… The past, so expertly summarized in A Cursing Brain?, tells us [the latest] will not be the last theory to attempt an explanation of Tourette syndrome.—John C. Marshall, The Times Literary Supplement

This book is a ‘must’ for anyone interested in the history of medicine, neurology and psychiatry as well as Tourette’s syndrome. There is no doubt that this is the best exposition of the syndrome’s history in the literature… Kushner’s is one of the most exciting and intriguing textbooks that I have read: clinically and historically correct, extremely well written and an erudite and scholarly treatise.—Mary Robertson, Nature

I highly recommend A Cursing Brain? as a brilliant and readable narrative of how, over time, we change our minds when faced with a puzzling and hard-to-treat constellation of socially maladaptive physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms… Kushner presents superb and meticulously documented descriptions of Tourette’s and of our understanding of the syndrome.—Julio Licinio, Science

In Kushner’s hands, the story of Tourette’s, which is richly laced with controversies, is fascinating… Kushner handles his material with such aplomb that his tale deserves to appeal not only to medical historians and the families touched by Tourette’s, but to a wider readership.—Michael Thompson-Noel, Financial Times

[A Cursing Brain?] explores the cultural and medical assumptions that have changed the classification of Tourette syndrome since the condition was first identified in the early 19th century.The Chronicle of Higher Education

As Kushner soberly explains, most diagnosed [Tourette’s] sufferers don’t display ‘florid’ symptoms, but do have involuntary physical and vocal ‘tics.’ This book charts the course of the disagreements over what exactly constitutes the syndrome.—Steven Poole, The Guardian

Does the archetype of [Tourette’s] as a foul-language syndrome obscure what’s really going on? And is that determined by stress, or genetically, or linked to infection? In a pleasant blend of storytelling, medicine and history, Kushner relates the history of this still-misunderstood disorder.New Scientist

Kushner’s book deftly points out the extent to which cultural expectations have shaped ideas about Tourette syndrome—and, by implication, many other psychiatric disorders… [It] is particularly valuable for its well-documented message that the history of medical thought is constantly changing.—Steven C. Schlozman, The Sciences

The subtitle’s plural is significant, since even today the definitions and treatments of Tourette syndrome vary widely. Beyond its immediate focus, Mr. Kushner’s comparative study has much to say about how theories of disease in general acquire medical authority… A Cursing Brain? is a thought-provoking and balanced historical synthesis of the biological and psychoanalytic ideologies surrounding Tourette syndrome.—Matthew Belmonte, The Washington Times

A Cursing Brain? is well written and meticulously documented. It wonderfully illustrates how the historical succession of causal explanations from early in the 19th century to the mid 1990s has transformed the categorization and treatment of motor and vocal tics and allied symptoms. Kushner nicely captures the range of symptoms and the hazards associated with efforts to separate tics from obsessions and compulsions… Kushner’s emphasis on the key role of the Tourette Syndrome Association and the rich legacy of Arthur and Elaine Shapiro is appropriate and timely… In several respects, I found A Cursing Brain? illuminating—particularly in regard to the evolving French psychiatric tradition and its continued devotion to Freudian principles… Kushner’s belief in the potential of auto immune mechanisms to illuminate the etiology of some fraction of tic and obsessive-compulsive disorder cases is also on target.American Journal of Psychiatry

Professor Kushner guides us ably through some of the first descriptions of Tourette syndrome starting with the Marquis Dampierre… This tale offers several humbling lessons; ideas about disease are often firmly rooted in the prevailing culture…this book aims to tell what happened and does not necessarily offer solutions. Above all, I left the book thinking ‘be humble, doubt yourself and your ideas’ and imagine how history will judge us in the year 2099.—Hugh Rickards, Child Psychology and Psychiatry

Considers the histories of Tourette’s syndrome and places particular emphasis on how external influences have affected the ways in which Tourette’s syndrome has been conceptualized over time… Cogently describes how patients with Tourette’s syndrome have been viewed over time and provides an interesting and heuristic example of how the art and science of medicine do not occur in sterile data-informed vacuum… In short, A Cursing Brain? is a very interesting history-of-medicine book that considers how Tourette’s syndrome has been understood and viewed over the past 2 centuries.—Robert L. Findling, M.D., Journal of Clinical Psychology

[This book] is unreservedly excellent and ought to be read by all those interested in the history of neurology and psychiatry as well as Tourette’s Syndrome.—Mary M. Robertson, Psychological Medicine

Kushner combines the virtues of a detective story with those of a well-documented medical history in a fascinating narrative of the development of the knowledge about, treatments of, and medical and lay attitudes toward Tourette’s Syndrome (TS) patients. The word histories in the subtitle points to a major TS reality. Many theories of TS have led into blind alleys and disputes that have not been resolved. Kushner takes us down these paths and brings to life the investigators and propagandists who sought data or pushed their own views with little to back them up. He shows us that even the name of the malady appeared and disappeared as psychological and organic causes rose and fell in favor. Many who intend merely to sample the scholarly book may wind up devouring it.—William Beatty, Booklist

A well-documented, scholarly analysis of the changing ways in which practitioners have tried to explain the baffling phenomenon of motor tics and involuntary shouts, barks, and curses exhibited by those with Tourette syndrome… Kushner traces how…differing views of Tourette’s causes shaped not only patients’ and physicians’ perception of the disorder but also its treatment: psychotherapy, lobotomies, removal of teeth or tonsils—all were tried and claims made for their effectiveness… [Kushner’s] skeptical conclusion that the success and decline of the various approaches owes more to the power of a shared set of beliefs than to the rigor of scientific testing is persuasive.Kirkus Reviews

Kushner describes the shifting ‘histories’ of [Tourette] syndrome since it was first described by French neurologist Georges Gilles de la Tourette in 1885. Experts have variously attributed the Tourette complex of behaviors to moral defects, neurological damage, repressed sexual urges, and chemical imbalances. Such explanations, Kushner argues, conceal cultural assumptions that prevent physicians from fully hearing their patients’ stories and thus influence medical practice in damaging ways. Kushner cautions his readers that patients themselves, unconstrained by medical orthodoxy, have much to teach. A compassionate and absorbing work of medical history.—Kathleen Arsenault, Library Journal

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