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Cultures of Neurasthenia

From Beard to the First World War

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Neurasthenia, meaning nerve weakness, was ‘invented’ in the United States as a disorder of modernity, caused by the fast pace of urban life. Soon after, from the early 1880s onwards, this modern disease crossed the Atlantic. Neurasthenia became much less ‘popular’ in Britain or the Netherlands than in Germany. Neurasthenia’s heyday continued into the first decade of the twentieth century. The label referred to conditions similar to those currently labelled as chronic fatigue syndrome. Why this rise and fall of neurasthenia, and why these differences in popularity? This book, which emerged out of an Anglo-Dutch-German conference held in June 2000, explores neurasthenia’s manysided history from a comparative perspective.

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