Book review. Sacred Lives: An account of the history, cultural associations and social impact of epilepsy

Graham Cooper is a Retired GP from Stirling, formerly a Pharmaceutical Physician in the UK and Singapore.

The author of Sacred Lives is known to generations of medical students for his outstanding neurology texts, popular worldwide for their accessibility. Now retired, Professor Bone has produced an absorbing account of the impact of epilepsy and people affected by it.

As a neurologist the author has a major specialty interest in epilepsy, however he explains that his interest also reflects a deep personal involvement, as his adult son has been affected with epilepsy since childhood.

That personal experience differentiates this from previous works on the history of epilepsy, which are intended for a professional readership. Sacred Lives is written for a general audience, but contains a wealth of thoroughly researched material, which will ensure appreciation by professional readers.

…..the often flawed approach to epilepsy by the media.

The scene is set with the history and changing perspectives on epilepsy in all its presentations. Followed by a review of epilepsy in the arts, and how artists and musicians have been affected, with further sections on the often flawed approach to epilepsy by the media with examples of their misrepresentation.

This is woven together with memorable and sometimes quite dramatic accounts of the often difficult, stigmatising experiences of a spectrum of contemporary and historic characters. Overall a compelling human account describing society’s frequently negative response to epilepsy and the ordeals that some famous and other lesser figures have experienced, leading many to attempt to conceal their diagnosis.

The book ends with an epilogue, which is an unsentimental, but powerful statement of how epilepsy has affected the author and his family; an experience which informs the humanity permeating the whole book.

…the aim has been to bring epilepsy out of the shadows.

The RCGP designated Epilepsy as a Clinical Priority in 2013-2015 and created a helpful resource for GPs. Whilst the care of patients with epilepsy is often shared with neurologists, GPs can fruitfully bring extra insight into the difficulties that patients face. In writing Sacred Lives Professor Bone states that the ‘aim has been to bring epilepsy out of the shadows’ and ‘challenge fresh thought about the lives of those for whom epilepsy is a daily reality.’ It is a fascinating book which succeeds, and nurtures that extra insight.


Featured book:

Ian Bone. Sacred Lives: An account of the history, cultural associations and social impact of epilepsy. Pub: Nielsen, 2020, PB, 363 pp, ISBN 978-1-18380367-13


Featured photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

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