cover image In the Kingdom of the Sick: 
A Social History of Chronic Illness in America

In the Kingdom of the Sick: A Social History of Chronic Illness in America

Laurie Edwards. Walker, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1801-3

With chronic ailments the new norm, people are fighting for their right to be ill, argues this wan exploration of evolving attitudes toward sickness. Edwards (Life Disrupted) surveys the battle of patients with intractable diseases against disparagement and misunderstanding, including AIDS patients deemed morally unworthy, diabetics blamed for unhealthy lifestyles, and breast cancer survivors who are lionized but also expected to remain cheerful and feisty. But she focuses on people who suffer from poorly defined maladies—chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and other kinds of persistent pain—that are often ascribed to stress, malingering, or feminine hysteria instead of biological causes. Edwards, who has celiac disease and lung disorders, mostly sides with patients against skeptics; she regales readers with her own and others’ stories of dismissive doctors and unsympathetic jibes, and situates their struggle for credibility within the patients’ rights movement and the Internet’s burgeoning ethos of do-it-yourself medical research and advocacy. She is more interested in activism against prejudice, sexism, and an arrogant medical establishment than in the lived experience of illness, and frequently glosses over scientific issues with anecdotes instead of rigorously analyzing them. One often feels that Edwards misses the heart of the medical problems she addresses. Agent: Matthew Carnicelli, Carnicelli Literary Management. (Apr.)