The History of American Homeopathy: From Rational Medicine to Holistic Health Care (review)
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Reviewed by
John S. Haller, Jr. The History of American Homeopathy: From Rational Medicine to Holistic Health Care. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2009. xiv + 191 pp. $49.95 (978-0-8135-4583-7).

This detailed and well-written book by John Haller, a renowned historian of alternative medicine, charts the changing fortunes of homeopathy in the United States over the past century. In so doing, it traces its development from a system based on medical practitioners condemned by Abraham Flexner and the American Medical Association in the early twentieth century to an alternative medicine associated with lay practitioners and linked to the emergence of holistic healing today. This is an important area, not only because of its scholarly interest but also because of increasingly high public demand for homeopathic treatment.

Chapter 1 of the book covers the striving of a significant number of leading practitioners of homeopathy to become a specialty within conventional medicine and its subsequent betrayal and demise—culminating in the post-Flexner closure of homeopathic colleges, hospitals, and clinics in the 1920s and 1930s. Chapter 2 discusses the various theories underpinning homeopathy and their relationship to its vitalist underpinnings, while chapter 3 outlines the growing role of the laity in shaping the development of homeopathy, including in its expanding domestic practice with the decline of trained homeopathic physicians.

In chapter 4 the postwar expansion of homeopathy is documented, along with its further move away from medical orthodoxy, including its association in the 1950s and 1960s with Eastern concepts of life, death, sickness, and health. In chapter 5, meanwhile, the current challenges faced by homeopathy with increasing numbers of unlicensed lay practitioners are considered—not least in terms of its legitimacy. Finally, chapter 6 examines whether the present nonmedical belief system of homeopathy is consistent with the original nineteenth-century formulation by Hahnemann as well as the consequences of abandoning peer review and the scientific method.

A key achievement of this intriguing book is in capturing the shifting and diverse nature of homeopathy itself, which Haller depicts as having developed from an empirical science to a religious belief system—in addition to recording the responses of physicians and the laity to it. In so doing, Haller encompasses the complexity of the development of homeopathy within a cogent narrative. As [End Page 159] such, the book largely avoids the partisan approach of both its supporters and detractors—even if occasionally the language it employs of "rational" medical science and "cultist" and "metaphysical" homeopathy could be seen as loaded.

More critically, greater attention might have been given to homeopathy in other national contexts; even though the book is self-consciously focused on the United States, more comparative analysis would have shed greater light on the distinctive case of American homeopathy. Having said this, comparisons are made to Europe—not least in relation to its early development and the more spiritual view of healing taken by contemporary American homeopathy in repudiating orthodox medical reductionism and randomized controlled trials. However, although at times reference is made to its constituent countries, greater awareness is needed of the dangers of treating Europe as a homogeneous whole.

Another potential criticism of the book is that it effectively starts its journey at the beginning of the twentieth century, thereby skating over the rich American history of homeopathy from the mid- to late nineteenth century. However, the key features of this period are outlined, and, placing the book in its wider context, this account is a sequel to John Haller's other seminal text published in 2005 titled The History of American Homeopathy: The Academic Years, 1820-1935. Both well-researched volumes deserve to be standard works on this subject, which is relatively little explored in this depth in the literature. They have much to offer readers interested in both orthodox and alternative medicine since their histories are so intertwined.

Mike Saks
University Campus Suffolk
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