cover image A Body Made of Glass: A Cultural History of Hypochondria

A Body Made of Glass: A Cultural History of Hypochondria

Caroline Crampton. Ecco, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-327390-0

In this riveting, genre-bending memoir, journalist Crampton (The Way to the Sea) traces the cultural and historical lineage of hypochondria. Pulling from ancient medical sources, film, literature, and modern psychiatric texts, Crampton attempts to demystify the condition, also known as health anxiety, which she’s struggled with for decades. At 17, Crampton was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer and underwent intensive treatment. After doctors told her the cancer had been eradicated, it returned. The experience left Crampton certain that disaster was always around the corner, and here she contextualizes her persistent anxiety with discussions of Marcel Proust’s potentially psychosomatic asthma, the allure of googling one’s symptoms, and more. Seamlessly blending personal narrative with cultural investigation, Crampton traces the evolution of hypochondria from a physiological diagnosis in ancient Greece to a psychological one in contemporary culture, and links the ever-questioning sufferers of the condition to other knowledge-seekers throughout popular history, including Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf, whose own hypochondriac tendencies were sometimes attributed to their “brilliant but overactive” minds. “Hypochondria only has questions,” Crampton writes, “never answers,” and her narrative follows suit, delivering few concrete takeaways. Still, it’s a stimulating and rigorous take on a slippery subject. Agent: Amelia Atlas, CAA. (Apr.)