This review was reprinted from the October 2002 edition of Homeopathy in Practice with permission from the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths.
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The Heritage of Homoeopathic Literature: An Abbreviated Bibliography and Commentary
By: Julian Winston
Great Auk Publishing, Tawa, NZ, 2001
xvi + 243 pp., p/b, ISBN 0-473-07996-8
Reviewed by: Michael Emmans Dean
Imagine visiting a GP or A&E department for treatment, and watching medics consult the London pharmacopoeia (1792), Osler's Principles and practice of medicine (8th edn, 1918), or even the British national formulary (1968 edn). You would head for the door, on a trolley if necessary. However, a visit to a homeopath might well elicit burrowing in historical texts, this time to your considerable relief. Kent, Clarke, the AlIens, Hughes, Hering, Bonninghausen, Hahnemann et al. are not just receding names in history books. Many of us rely on our predecessors' Guiding symptoms, Handbooks, Dictionaries, Cyclopaedias and Repertories every day. We are blessed by homeopathy's ability to add to its therapeutic knowledge base, instead of ditching treatments every time the patent (or patient) runs out. Blessed too by its Indian popularity, making it easy to buy serviceable facsimiles of rare antiquarian medical books at low cost.
Such riches are easily taken for granted. And blessings can become curses when overdone. Which of the thousands of reprints are worth reading, let alone using, after the effort to keep up with current literature from Coulter, Sankaran, Vermeulen and the rest? College training does not, as far as I know, include an objective guide to the literature, and few students have the time or inclination to look at more than a fraction of what is available.
Julian Winston's new book makes navigating the ocean of information a lot easier. It describes more than nine hundred of the most important or interesting titles written in or translated into English, with a handful of important German works by the pioneers. They are helpfully divided into natural categories, such as 'Organon', 'Principles', 'Materia medica', 'Therapeutics'. These include some delightfully eccentric 'Other books' and the inevitable 'Miscellaneous'. The books are listed chronologically rather than alphabetically within each category, giving a simultaneous overview of homeopathy's development. Bibliographic details are generally of the high standard expected of this most critical of commentators, although a few German titles are given as if they were written in English, and more generally translators and editors are not listed systematically or consistently. There is a slight American bias in the listings, but I noticed only one omission of a crucially important British book: William Henderson's favourable An inquiry into the homoeopathic practice of medicine (1845/6) rocked the British medical world as never before or since, coming from the pen of the professor of pathology at Edinburgh University. His later defence, Homoeopathy fairly represented (Edinburgh, 1853), is here, albeit in the American edition published a year later. The book is completed with a set of useful appendices, including Woodbury's article on the essential homeopathic library, a list of publishers and the dates they were active, and a unified chronology of all 915 books included. I particularly liked the graphs of the number of books published each year, showing just what a renaissance we have been living through since the 1970s.
It would be wrong to imagine that this is merely a bibliophile's paradise, however. One of the author's stated aims is to encourage practical homeopaths to enlarge our range by getting us to explore our heritage. Most entries are followed by a brief description of the book's contents and aim. You may well have bought Boger's Synoptic key (1915) on his reputation as a homeopath among homeopaths, but did you read the all-important introduction explaining how the rubrics follow the order Boger found essential in analysing his cases? Did you know that Aggarwal's Applied repertory (1990) synthesises Kent's Mind section, Bonninghausen's General modalities, Boger's Pathological generals, Boericke's Diseases, all updated from the Synthetic repertory and Phatak's Repertory, and the whole divided up into five sections, each corresponding to a piece of the case, following Aggarwal's detailed schema? I can't wait to get hold of a copy. These condensed guides form the main justification for the book, and the reason why you should buy it. They also include wry observations - Vithoulkas' The science of homeopathy (1978) was written with 'major structural help' from Bill Gray - as well as helpful reminders - Blackie's The patient not the cure (1976) is one of the few places where you can find the Emanometer remedy groups worked out by W.E. Boyd.
Many entries also contain a separate field in which Julian Winston offers his personal opinions. These are by turns informative, entertaining and provocative - a true reflection of the mind behind the undertaking, and most challenging when discussing recent fashions:
These two works (The Spirit and The Substance) by Sankaran have become the popular 'cutting-edge' of homoeopathy, and have led to more and more speculative musings about the remedies needed in the case - the information gleaned not as much from the case but by the synthetic overlay of the kingdom analysis and the perception of the core delusion. The path is fraught with danger, especially in the hands of those with little grounding in the materia medica, who see these methods as an easy way to find remedies. As 'essence' prescribing was the password in the 1980s, the 'core delusion' and 'kingdom analysis' became the 'hot ticket' in the 1990s.
In contrast to imaginative theory, unpretentious practical worth is highly rated. I doubt that Jahr's Therapeutic guide (1869, reprinted 1980) would have been a constant friend to me, and patients phoning in with acutes, but for a chance remark by my prescriber 20 years ago. If this annotated bibliography had been available, everybody could have bought Jahr on the basis of the following recommendation: 'Most I know who have been bothered to read it are amazed at the useful information they can glean from these pages.' I hope the same will be said of The heritage of homoeopathic literature in years to come.