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Passions and Tempers


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About the Author

Noga Arikha was raised in Paris and received her doctorate in history at London's Warburg Institute. She was a fellow at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University, and has taught at Bard College and the Bard Graduate Center. She lives in New York City.


Leading medical minds were once convinced that health and sickness resulted from the interplay of the four "humors": blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile, each associated with a certain personality trait (e.g., black bile signifies melancholic) and with one of the basic elements of the universe (e.g., yellow bile is linked to fire). The rational mindset naturally recoils at the crudity and superstition of this ancient medical framework, but independent historian Arikha's pleasing historical survey usefully reminds us that our modern theories of the relationship between mind, mood and body rest on gains made by humoral analogy. To investigate the humors is to probe all of Western medicine, starting with the ancient physicians Hippocrates and Galen, the Persian Hunayn ibn-Is'haq, through the bloodlettings of the Middle Ages and Harvey's experiments on blood, to Mesmer and Freud and beyond. If Arikha's defense is occasionally a touch too fervent, her passion, intellectual energy and empathy are laudable . After all, says Arikha, neurotransmitters are today's humors, and pharmaceutical companies are not all that different from the apothecaries of yore. This is a stimulating work that shows the Western mind nobly grappling with the inscrutable nature of the human body. 36 b&w illus. (June) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"...this persistent [humoural] theory...has much to teach us..." -- New York Sun
"Passions and Tempers may excite the passions and a good work of intellectual history should." -- Washington Post
"...a stimulating work that shows the Western mind nobly grappling with the inscrutable nature of the human body." -- Publishers Weekly
"To Arikha's immense credit, she provides a thoroughly documented account..." -- New York Times Book Review
"...a fine job..." -- New York Times Book Review
"Fascinating...[Passions and Tempers] challenges us to consider the value, and the meaning, of a discredited theory." --

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