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Publisher's Summary

Each of us will know physical pain in our lives, but none of us knows when it will come or how long it will stay. Today as much as 10 percent of the population of the United States suffers from chronic pain. It is more widespread, misdiagnosed, and undertreated than any major disease. While recent research has shown that pain produces pathological changes to the brain and spinal cord, many doctors and patients still labor under misguided cultural notions and outdated scientific dogmas that prevent proper treatment, to devastating effect.

In The Pain Chronicles, a singular and deeply humane work, Melanie Thernstrom traces conceptions of pain throughout the ages - from ancient Babylonian pain-banishing spells to modern brain imaging - to reveal the elusive, mysterious nature of pain itself. Interweaving first-person reflections on her own battle with chronic pain, incisive reportage from leading-edge pain clinics and medical research, and insights from a wide range of disciplines - science, history, religion, philosophy, anthropology, literature, and art - Thernstrom shows that when dealing with pain we are neither as advanced as we imagine nor as helpless as we may fear.

©2010 Melanie Thernstrom (P)2010 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Thernstrom never flinches in the face of a subject that is easily overlooked or judged by those for whom it is, ironically, too painful. This is stellar work." (Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall

Informative, well researched and nicely written

The Pain Chronicles is one of the best books of any genre that I have read in quite a few years. It captivated me as well as any novel, and informed me about chronic pain in a way that made the issue at once human and scientific. I highly recommend this one, and I am pretty hard to please.

30 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mark
  • Frisco, TX, United States
  • 09-07-10

Great for loved ones of chronic pain sufferers

I read the book because my wife has been in pain for several years. While reading this book cannot put me in her shoes, it did give me a better understanding of what being in constant pain does to a person. Moreover, it gave me a much better understanding of the separation between pain perception and injury. I would recommend this book to anyone that loves someone who has chronic pain.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great book

I am still listening, but I am impressed. I was a little afraid of the book at first because of the nature of the topic, but I am glad I dove in anyway. This book really woke me up to the antiquated attitudes we have about chronic pain. Future generations will be every bit is shocked by how we treat chronic pain patients as we are by past rascism. Think I am being melodramatic or making an inappropriate comparison? Listen for yourself and see if you still feel that way.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Lots of info! Amazing!

I can't begin to describe all that's in this book! The subtitle really sums it up: cures, myths, mysteries, prayers, diaries (which struck me s a really great idea), brain scans, healing (I could only wish!), and "the science of suffering" (which, of course, is not a science at all) - and, as they say on "as seen on TV" ads, "and much much more!!"

A great deal that's informative, interesting, even philosophical. The outline is a chronicle of the author's own experience with chronic pain, which forms a framework - or "skeleton" might be a more apt metaphor - from which she hangs various forays into different aspects of pain, suffering, pain management, social aspects of pain, history of pain, impact of pain on the execution of one's days and one's life, evolution of pain in a sufferer's life, anatomy/physiology/chemistry of pain, philosophy, all else that is detailed in the aforementioned subtitle, and probably "much much more" not coming to mind at the moment

The book is elegantly read by Laural Merlington. The intimacy with which she reads the material makes you want to double-check that she is not actually the author.

There is so much good, usable info here that I want ready access to, that I'm going to get a hard copy of this book. If you have been grappling with pain - chronic pain, cancer pain, whatever form of pain that's plaguing you - please get this book!! You need it!! And I WOULD in fact recommend at least starting with this audio version for an initial reading. And... good luck to you!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

This Book Has Changed My Life...

Thank you, Ms. Thernstrom. Your story, and the information you so generously shared has helped me reach a turning point in my battle against chronic pain. Anyone who has experienced living with this disorder can see that you know what you are talking about. I desperately needed this, and have been improving steadily since reading your book. You have my gratitude.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

interesting book but marred by self indulgence

The author is a New York Times reporter who interweaves the history, culture and medicine of pain with her own failed romance (meets married partner-to-be at the same time she develops chronic pain). The result is she lacks any critical distance about her lovelife, which mars an otherwise interesting account of chronic pain. Her history of medicine shows that conceptions of pain have been continuously re-interpreted; good point, but how many times do you want to hear her announce what an insight this is? I would imagine her editor had a long battle with her and lost.beta inappVoteInfo

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Story
  • Jeff
  • Pickering, Ontario, Canada
  • 04-19-12

NOT ENTIRELY UN-USEFUL

Being a Chronic pain sufferer myself, I had expectations for this book that may have been to high. From what I remember ( I read this awhile ago now) There were parts that had merit, especially for those that have people in their lives in chronic pain. I think I might read this again,though Im doughtful. Those like me, that are in terrible pain most of the time, like the author(to some degree) are desperate for a book that has a chance in hell of helping them,or at lest ecnoleging their suffering on ANY level . Having said all that....Its the only book there is as far as I know by someone who knows chronic pain on some level. No surprise since being in chronic pain and doing anything.... are polar points of being. Chronic pain is a living hell!!!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Sally
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 02-28-12

In Depth, Broad, yet Personal

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I believe that the authors personal journey with pain enhanced, rather than detracted from the book. Often people don't think they are understood with their chronic pain. Because she had her personal journey as well as her research, she shares simple things which help, and are good to do before a diagnosis, just to prevent things from getting worse. <br/><br/>She looked at history as well as prevailing attitudes about pain. It shows that they are linked, and stand in the way of being treated. She shared some of the most current ways of proceeding with a treatment plan; shared that while there can be a limited number of things done for chronic pain, treatment is individual in the long run. <br/><br/>Because of this, we come away knowing that primary care physicians are often ill-equipped to deal with chronic pain.

What did you like best about this story?

The underscoring of simple stretching and activity, even walking can have beneficial effect.

Which scene was your favorite?

The amount of time she spent on the treatment with narcotics.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

When she was diagnosed.

Any additional comments?

This book may not appeal to everyone. I leant it to a family member who wasn't interested in the history, and there is another reviewer who didn't like the personal part of the story.<br/><br/>I think it all contributes to the whole. It helps us understand what we are in the middle of, when we are trying to get treated.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Paul
  • Plymouth, MA, United States
  • 01-14-11

Tedious but informative

Only made it through because I suffer from chronic pain, but I deeply appreciated the work that went into it. There are a few insights that have helped me. Never connected with the author/narrator.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding!

Do not miss this book if you suffer from, care for, or interact with someone with chronic pain! Perhaps a bit lengthy, it is worth every word--and can easily be consumed in sections. (Although often
hard to pause!) As a longtime healthcare consumer, friend, professional, and fellow human, this book is at the top of my recommended resources for this topic!