Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness
A landmark exploration of one of the most consequential and mysterious issues of our time: the rise of chronic illness and autoimmune diseases
A silent epidemic of chronic illnesses afflicts tens of millions of Americans: these are diseases that are poorly understood, frequently marginalized, and can go undiagnosed and unrecognized altogether. Renowned writer Meghan O’Rourke delivers a revelatory investigation into this elusive category of “invisible” illness that encompasses autoimmune diseases, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, and now long COVID, synthesizing the personal and the universal to help all of us through this new frontier.
Drawing on her own medical experiences as well as a decade of interviews with doctors, patients, researchers, and public health experts, O’Rourke traces the history of Western definitions of illness, and reveals how inherited ideas of cause, diagnosis, and treatment have led us to ignore a host of hard-to-understand medical conditions, ones that resist easy description or simple cures. And as America faces this health crisis of extraordinary proportions, the populations most likely to be neglected by our institutions include women, the working class, and people of color.
Blending lyricism and erudition, candor and empathy, O’Rourke brings together her deep and disparate talents and roles as critic, journalist, poet, teacher, and patient, synthesizing the personal and universal into one monumental project arguing for a seismic shift in our approach to disease. The Invisible Kingdom offers hope for the sick, solace and insight for their loved ones, and a radical new understanding of our bodies and our health.
“An authentically original voice and, perhaps more startlingly, an authentically original perspective….The book is not only a memoir of her illness, but also a document of years of research.” —Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon, in The New York Times Book Review
“The Invisible Kingdom is an important and powerful book in many ways, but perhaps its most valuable contribution is the way it articulates the loneliness and frustration of having symptoms that superficially resemble the pains and pressures of contemporary life in the United States while being much more severe.”—The Nation
“The Invisible Kingdom is a vivid account of the lived experience of chronic illness. Meghan O’Rourke exposes a system of thought in which people with poorly understood illnesses are dismissed and disbelieved, blamed for their own suffering, and left to take desperate risks in pursuit of treatment. Crucially, her perspective offers insight into how we can do better.” –Eula Biss, author of Having and Being Had