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A Body Made of Glass: A Cultural History of Hypochondria (Hardcover)

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Part cultural history, part literary criticism, and part memoir, A Body Made of Glass is a definitive biography of hypochondria.

Caroline Crampton’s life was upended at the age of seventeen, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a relatively rare blood cancer. After years of invasive treatment, she was finally given the all clear. But being cured of the cancer didn’t mean she felt well. Instead, the fear lingered, and she found herself always on the alert, braced for signs that the illness had reemerged. 

Now, in A Body Made of Glass, Crampton has drawn from her own experiences with health anxiety to write a revelatory exploration of hypochondria—a condition that, though often suffered silently, is widespread and rising. She deftly weaves together history, memoir, and literary criticism to make sense of this invisible and underexplored sickness. From the earliest medical case of Hippocrates to the literary accounts of sufferers like Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust to the modern perils of internet self-diagnosis, Crampton unspools this topic to reveal the far-reaching impact of health anxiety on our physical, mental, and emotional health.

At its heart, Crampton explains, hypochondria is a yearning for knowledge. It is a never-ending attempt to replace the edgeless terror of uncertainty with the comforting solidity of a definitive explanation. Through intimate personal stories and compelling cultural perspectives, A Body Made of Glass brings this uniquely ephemeral condition into much-needed focus for the first time.

About the Author

Caroline Crampton is a writer and reviewer who covers a wide variety of subjects for the Guardian, the Spectator, the Mail On Sunday, and other publications. Her first book, The Way to the Sea, was published by Granta in 2019She appears regularly as a critic on BBC Radio 4. She lives in Merseyside, England.

Praise For…

“This is a wonderful, poignant, and personal journey into the world of hypochondria. We stand with Crampton on the precipice, where a small shift in perception can plunge us into an overwhelming dread of illness. Written with wisdom and insight, this is both an important and entertaining read into a much-misunderstood condition.” — Dr. Alastair Santhouse, author of Head First

“Caroline Crampton takes us on a tour of her own personal vortex in this thoughtful and touching examination of what it means to be well. While her central metaphor is glass—with all its implications of fragility, brittleness, and shattered sharp edges—Crampton’s unflinching honesty and skill with words make for a tender and often heart-breaking history of medicine. Every medical professional should read this book.” — Subhadra Das, author of Uncivilised

A Body Made of Glass is a masterful and very readable account of the history of hypochondria as a concept in human history, and its implications for how we think about what is real, what is normal, and how we relate to our bodies. And the writing is beautiful. This is a profound work, especially when Crampton weaves in her own story of illness anxiety and trauma. I read it at a sitting.” — Dr. Gwen Adshead, author of The Devil You Know

“Clarity and beauty combine with terror and dark comedy—essential reading for everyone who has a body. And yes—that means every single reader in the world.” — Lucy Worsley, author of Agatha Christie

“Moving and fascinating. By combining her own experiences with a reflective and insightful study of hypochondria’s history, Crampton has created a unique exploration of the condition. Hypochondria, and the plight of those who live with it, has long deserved more attention. A Body Made of Glass is a surprising, uplifting, and compelling book that will, I hope, put that right.” — Michael Brooks, author of The Art of More

“A compassionate, erudite, and humane exploration of our greatest anxieties. If you've ever had sleepless nights worrying about your health, this definitive history of hypochondria is for you.” — Jules Montague, author of The Imaginary Patient

“An intelligent, vulnerable, and learned book about a condition so widespread and yet so misunderstood. A Body Made of Glass unpicks the mysterious relationship between mind, body, and a health anxiety that may or may not have a physical source. Crampton's personal history makes her perfectly qualified to adjudicate the ultimate question: is it all in the mind? Her answers are humane, thoughtful, and unsettling. The best book I've read in ages.” — Cal Flyn, author of Islands of Abandonment

“A fascinating history of health anxiety, from Hippocrates to Dr. Google.” — Guardian

“Poetic and personal, this book reveals a condition that is debilitating and often hidden.” — Kirkus 

“Hypochondria has a long history, yet it is perhaps the quintessential condition of our times. Crampton has written a thoughtful, affecting examination of what it’s like to own a body in an anxious era.” — Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix and Heartbreak

“In this riveting, genre-bending memoir, journalist Crampton traces the cultural and historical lineage of hypochondria. . . [A] stimulating and rigorous take on a slippery subject.” — Publishers Weekly

"A truly fascinating foray into the theories, origins, history, and treatment of a too-often maligned disorder that cries out for less judgment and more empathy." — Booklist (starred review)

“Hypochondria, [Crampton] finds, offer a rich and nebulous tradition, binding her to two millennia of people led around in circles by their own bodies.” — Harpers

“Engaging. . . . With extensive experience in the worlds of the medically explained and the medically unexplained, Crampton is perfectly placed to write this fascinating and intelligent cultural history of health anxiety, suffused with the intensity of feeling that hypochondria ignites, as well as the insight that it often precludes.” — Guardian

"Crampton dissects each of [the book's] questions with care and nuance…[A Body Made of Glass] ranges comprehensively not only through the history of hypochondria, but also through hypochondria’s appearances in books and culture…I found myself bringing up the book to nearly everyone I spoke to during the time I was reading it, both because I found it fascinating and because it contained some element I felt would appeal to each person’s specific interests." — Brooklyn Rail

A Body Made of Glass is a product of impressively thorough research…full of fascinating forays.” — Washington Post

“Moving…[An] exhaustively researched cultural history of health anxiety…[Crampton] is an evocative writer, capable of elegant description and astute analysis, and she captures the ambiguities and contradictions of health anxiety…Crampton sets out to chase this condition through history. She not only succeeds, but ends up posing intriguing and potentially important questions.” — New Scientist

“Crampton is an elegant, perceptive writer...What [she discovers] in the history of hypochondria sheds provocative light on our evolving thinking about the relationship between mind and body.” — Salon

A Body Made of Glass provides an intimate, honest, willingly vulnerable exploration into a very sticky question: When it comes to health and sickness, what is real and what is imaginary? More importantly, who decides?....[The book is] an act of solidarity against the inscrutability of our own biological processes....Whether that which pains us is in body or in mind, our feelings and impressions about it matter. We are all facing mortality together, and Ms. Crampton’s last words of comfort are also the most honest: ‘I am ill and I am well. I am still here.’” — Wall Street Journal

“A beguiling new book. . . [Crampton’s] thought process is sort of a magical, trippy experience, with a whiff of Alice in Wonderland nibbling the magic mushroom.” — New York Times

"The timing of the writer Caroline Crampton’s new book, A Body Made of Glass: A Cultural History of Hypochondria, couldn’t be better. . . [A] belletristic account of hypochondria’s long and twisting lineage."

“I loved the book—it's a wide-ranging, relentlessly curious cultural history exploring everything from John Donne's hypochondriacal writing to the author's personal life with hypochondria since recovering from cancer.” — John Green

“[A] thought-provoking exploration of hypochondria...[A] portrait of a condition that, though nearly as old as recorded human history, continues to elude neat definition, even as it raises urgent questions about ‘who is believed when they speak of their pain, and who is not.’” — New Yorker

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063273900
ISBN-10: 006327390X
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English