Illness and Imagination

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Everybody knows a hypochondriac, obsessed with health and illness. Few admit to being one.

But history is littered with great thinkers and artists who were morbidly obsessed with dysfunction and disease. Moliere, Kant, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Mann all wrote of the syndrome. Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, Charlotte Bronte, Glenn Gould all had it. Maybe Michael Jackson and Woody Allen, too.

In the era of the “worried well,” we may all have a touch. This hour, On Point: illness, imagination, and tales of the eminent hypochondriacs.

Plus, later this hour, we’ll remember the people’s historian, Howard Zinn.


Joining us from Tunbridge Wells, England, is Brian Dillon, author of “The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives.” Dillon’s first book, “In the Dark Room,” won the 2006 Irish Book Award for nonfiction. He is UK Editor for Cabinet, an arts and culture quarterly, and a research fellow at the University of Kent.

Read an excerpt from “The Hypochondriacs.”

Remembering Howard Zinn

Later this hour, we look back at groundbreaking American historian Howard Zinn, dead at 87. Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States,” died of a heart attack yesterday in Santa Monica, California. An icon of the left, he turned the standard American historical narrative on its head — elevating the voices of workers, feminists, and war protesters. 

Joining us from Princeton, New Jersey, is Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He’s the author most recently of “Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security — From World War II to the War on Terrorism.” 

Zinn had twice been a guest on our show. In 2002, he discussed the war on terror in its early days.  And in 2006, as war raged on in Iraq, Zinn joined us to discuss the futility of war.

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