Book review, A Passion for Society: How We Think about Human Suffering by Iain Wilkinson & Arthur Kleinman

Written by the Harvard medical anthropologist professor Arthur, who also specialized on Chinese psychiatrists, and who had an expert on this field with his wife, whom he had lost due to many disease. And during that journey of of healing, and recovering, Arthur had learnt the art of care giving, although he come up from a very bad background as a care giver himself, as he once said in one of his interviews, and his experience with medical care givers, and his own experience as a care giver himself, lays great deal of his work, and his books.

This book focuses on our consumption about what suffering is, from an anthropological, sociological point of view. Throughout the six chapters of this book, we started to build a foundation about the topics which are related to the ontological being of suffering.

The first chapter came as a timeline or a history of ideas, about what suffering is. The chapter covers, first thing first, the biblical definition, or interpretation of suffering, and the divine purpose of punishment during life, before the afterlife. It qoutes the old and the New Testament, along with many Christian theologist. Voltaire, and the 16th century era too were included, and how the concept of suffering specifically started during the industrial revolution.


“From the early seventeenth century there are records of crowds subverting convention and reacting with outbursts of sympathy to the spectacle of public execution.61 Lynn Hunt, however, argues that the 1760s are “distinguished by a marked increase in the discovery of feelings for the humanity of those subjected to cruel punishments. She notes that even though Voltaire was moved in 1762–63 to protest against the trial of Jean Calas on the grounds that it took place as an act of religious bigotry, by 1766 his principal concerns had shifted to the morally outrageous ways in which the court had attempted to use the method of “breaking on the wheel” to make Calas confess to the murder of his son.”

The second chapter which named as in division and denial, covers the theme of how such individuals speaks out about what society is mostly shut about; the legacy of Charles Dickens, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)”, the working class rights, which Hume, and adam smith talked about, feminists, and the spirit of romanticism, and it’s implications on the field of social science.

The fourth chapter, was the most chapter I’m not informed about its topic; as it discussed Webber’s thoughts, regardless to the fact that I haven’t read him before. The chapter also includes the ideas of suffering, on Nietzsche‘s philosophy , on the following content:


“Friedrich Nietzsche famously observed that “what really arouses indignation against suff ering is not suff ering as such but the senselessness of suffering .” Perhaps more than any other outstanding fi gure in modern Western philosophy, he was inclined to treat the moral and existential diffi culties experienced under the task of making sense of suff ering as a gate-way to understanding what makes us (“all too”) human. Nietzsche is particularly alert to the ways in which, under conditions of modernity, the apparent senselessness of suff ering becomes a pressing matter of moral and popular concern and to the fact that a shared sense of revulsion in the face of the spectacle of excessive suff ering is the wellspring for movements of humanitarian social reform.”


The fifth chapter was about the humanistic traits of the society, when it comes to suffering; namely compassion, sympathy, social understanding. And the last chapter comes as a practical application to the praxix of social suffering; namely care giving. The vulnerability, the helpping community, solidarity, and friendship, “socialization to ethical thinking. Then the book ends with conclusion chapter, and long bibliography.

The material of this book was highly valuable, although it was presented as a very highly specialized content, with an asumpation that the reader is already informed about the topics, and thus, it didn’t slow down to introduce a specific historical content, or a breif interview about certain philosopher, but went stright to the point.
As for me, who didn’t get most of what was written here, but got a little of a background to the topics that were discussed here, I therefore have to re-read it again, in order to fully understand it.

As for the audience of this book, it’s mostly recommended for anyone who works on the field of care giving, as well as for every individual who had experience the taste of suffering, in an age of quarantine as we live in right now, and the military occupation and violence, that innocent nations are suffering from.

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