[Book review] : Bharat Venkat 'At the Limits of Cure'

Ellis, Catriona (2023) [Book review] : Bharat Venkat 'At the Limits of Cure'. [Review] (https://doi.org/10.1093/jhmas/jrad014)

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Bharat Venkat’s excellent new book At the Limits of Cure has two key purposes. One is to query our understanding of the idea of “cure,” what it means to be cured or to be healthy, why this is applied to some diseases and not to others, how we conceptualize incurability, and how these ideas change over time and space. He traces the ways in which pain and cure were experienced and were given meaning in people’s social worlds; explores the different ethical, practical, and therapeutic implications of changing treatments; and shows how medical and social calculations of human worth and value often determined who was deemed “worthy” of cure. In unpacking this, Venkat seeks to disrupt the narrative of progress and completion inherent in the notion of cure, showing the “infinity of ends” associated with chronic disease, as health outcomes vary and cures appear to work for a time and then lose impact. The second goal is to situate these concepts in a historical anthropology of tuberculosis treatment in India across the twentieth century, particularly in the light of increasing resistance to antibiotics. Using a wide range of sources — film, mythology, personal narratives, interviews, colonial and medical records, as well as the built environment of the sanatoria — Venkat demonstrates a repeating pattern of new discovery of cure, whether medical or environmental, followed by wider expansion and then gradual disappointment as each attempt fails to reach its initial promise.