American Breakdown

 Our Ailing Nation, My Body’s Revolt, and the Nineteenth-Century Woman Who Brought Me Back to Life

 

When Jennifer Lunden became chronically ill shortly after moving from Canada to Maine, her case was a medical mystery. Just 21, unable to hold a book or stand for a shower, she lost her job and consigned herself to her bed. The doctor she went to for help told her she was “just depressed.”

After suffering from this enigmatic illness for five years, she discovered an unlikely source of hope and healing: a biography of Alice James, the bright, witty, and often bedridden sibling of the acclaimed novelist Henry James and the equally eminent psychologist-philosopher William James. Alice suffered from a life-shattering illness known as neurasthenia, now often dismissed as a “fashionable illness.” 

In this meticulously researched and illuminating debut, Lunden interweaves her own experience with Alice’s, exploring the history of medicine and the effects of the industrial revolution and late-stage capitalism to tell a riveting story of how we are a nation struggling—and failing—to be healthy.

Although science—and the politics behind its funding—has in many ways let Lunden and millions like her down, in the end science offers a revelation that will change how readers think about the ecosystems of their bodies, their communities, the country, and the planet.