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A History of Hypnotism
By Alan Gauld
4.5 out of 5 stars (2 Reviews)
List Price: $127.00
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Publisher:  Cambridge University Press
Edition:  Revised
Published:  March 31, 1995
Binding:  Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars.  A valuable, detailed, and often fascinating history of a neglected subject, April 03, 2011
By Frontiersman (Minnesota)
Often it's helpful to obtain an historical overview of a topic in order to better understand it. This is certainly true of hypnotism, the mechanisms and nature of which are still not understood. Its body of knowledge is sustained more by practitioners than by scientists or academics.

Gauld's history, which covers the period from Franz Anton Mesmer to about 1910, is a thorough review of the subject.

The author is retired senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Nottingham, England. He joined the Society for Psychical Research in London in 1954, served on the Council, edited the Journal and Proceedings from 1965-1970, and was President from 1989-1992. He is the author of The Founders of Psychical Research (1968) and books about poltergeists (1979) and mediumship (1982).

This book is divided into two parts, the first covering mesmerism (also known as animal magnetism) and the other hypnotism.

Mesmerism, typically portrayed as early hypnotism, is in fact not identical with it. However, precisely what mesmerists did has been lost with time. And what many thought they were doing--manipulating magnetic "fluid" or force--is, we now know, not scientifically tenable.

Since the time of Mesmer (a physician), mesmerism and hypnotism have been strongly associated with healing. Successful hypnotic and mesmeric healings, contrary to popular belief, have not been restricted to psychosomatic or mental disorders--as Gauld carefully emphasizes. Indeed, most successful cures involved physical ailments.

One of the most remarkable revelations in the book is the use of mesmerism for surgical analgesia prior to the discovery of chemical anesthetics. Mesmerized patients underwent tooth extractions, childbirth (analogous to today's "hypnobirthing"), mastectomies, amputations, and other forms of major surgery painlessly. One of the foremost mesmeric practitioners was a Scottish surgeon in India, Dr. James Esdaile.

After ether and chloroform came into use, the utilization of mesmerism for medical analgesia dropped off precipitously. However, a few cases of surgery under hypnosis late in the century are recounted in the book.

Spiritualism turns out to be an outgrowth of mesmerism, and one of the causes of its demise. The book also highlights the surprising relationship between the phenomenon of multiple personalities and hypnotism.

On the downside, the author's prose is unengaging, although it conveys the facts clearly enough. An effort to define hypnosis at the outset would have been useful. As it is, the reader is tossed directly into bewildering factual minutiae, related in the context of the past, without contrasting modern perspective. Finally, some coverage of stage hypnotism would have been welcome, but is barely mentioned.

A History of Hypnotism contains a helpful and extensive 92-page bibliography (like the book separately covering mesmerism and hypnotism) listing hundreds of works by past practitioners and investigators as well as some contemporary titles. Gauld consulted books in English, French, and German, providing a wide overview of the topic. The history of hypnotism and mesmerism in England, the U.S., and on the Continent is covered.

The book provides a valuable, detailed, and often fascinating history of a neglected subject.

5 of 6 people found the above review helpful.

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5.0 out of 5 stars.  Academic work, superb for getting historical perspective, February 10, 1999
By A customer
A long book, 700 pages, dense, not for the light reader... yet what a treasure trove of information.
The book is an academic work, and written as such.
In this context it deserves five stars as a superb historical overview and reference work. The bibliography is very thorough.

16 of 17 people found the above review helpful.

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