The Myth of The Myth of Normal

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The basic and seemingly single-minded premise of the book is that trauma is at the root of most of the maladies of our age. To anyone who has been aware of the movement toward holistic medicine since at least the 60’s the contents will seem sophomoric and even trite, following a familiar formula of personal anecdote to illustrate a point. As one reviewer on Amazon put it, the anecdotes become tiresome, and as another reviewer said, the observations often elide scientific rigor.

What is more interesting to me than the contents of the book is the phenomenon of the book; its construction as a product.

As soon as I opened the book I became suspicious. The font is large and there’s lots of space between the lines. I compared the words per page with another hardcover book I picked at random from my shelf. The Myth of Normal had about 2/3 the words per page. Same with another book I compared it to. There are 497 pages in the body of the book, not counting the end notes and index. If the typography had been the same as my books, the body of the book would have been 300 pages. Also suspiciously, the end papers use a denser typography of a smaller font and tighter line spacing.

These production choices seem to have been made for the sake of conveying intellectual heft, to give the impression that this book is of the same importance of some of the recent intellectually acclaimed tomes such as The Dawn of Everything, These Truths and Capital and Ideology. In support of this, though in more usual marketing fashion, the blurbs are from well-known figures who, not coincidentally, are quoted liberally.

For those who might be trying to find a way out of the web of reductionist western medicine, this book will be a useful wedge. The popularity of its contributors and the reputability of its favorable reviewers will probably lend credibility to those who will argue for wider adoption of holistic medical practices. It extends a gentle hand to practitioners who feel a tentative opening to a more expansive perspective than that provided by conservative medical education.

So, the gimmickry involved in positioning the book in the market may be a necessary, or at least a forgivable evil. I’m not sure what that says about the intellectual life of our culture though, that ideas have to inveigle themselves via market psychology rather than through the mighty institutions of knowledge that have largely been captured by powerful commercial interests. Big pharma will lose money if we treat emotional pain with caring rather than with drugs, so universities are not inclined to jeopardize research funds by espousing such a view. It might well be that the splashy production and promotion of The Myth of Normal is sneakily subversive.


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