Thieme, Stuttgart and New York, 2008
Paperback, 264 pages, price £33
(Reviewed by Simon Fielding, EJOM Vol. 5 No. 6)
This is not the only recent publication of a textbook on the subject of pulse diagnosis. It is one of quite a variety of books on an essential aspect of diagnosis which is difficult to learn even with expert supervision – most people would probably agree that it is a great deal harder to explain and compare how you interpret what you touch than how you interpret what you see or hear. Many of us, once we have qualified, practise in an environment where we may no longer have such supervision over the ensuing years when we should be making a continual effort to develop our expertise in pulse reading, gaining more and more familiarity with it.
Colleges are becoming increasingly conscious of the need to have a well formulated strategy for teaching pulse reading, witness Frances Turner's article in our last edition but one. We have only to look at the methodical way in which she advocates teaching pulse reading to appreciate that it is much easier than we might suppose to start from the basics and to build on them stage by stage. Similarly the clarity and order of this book are such that it could help any practitioner who feels that his or her pulse reading needs refining and is prepared to concentrate and develop experience, rather than to lapse into the lazy supposition that pulse reading is all a matter of intuition. Apart from that the book is, as its title suggests, an easy reference which gives a quick and ready guide. Its purpose is therefore very different from a detailed textbook such as Leon Hammer's Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, (Eastland Press, 2001). In fact, the two would complement each other well: the one as a quick reference or 'lead in', the other for deeper exploration when one is ready.
The handbook opens with a short history of Chinese pulse diagnosis – interesting, but not the most useful section. After that is the main section: a guide to the method of taking the pulses leading to a description of each of the six main pulse categories according to the eight principles, building up to a detailed description of the twenty-eight pulse types within those categories. The strength of this section lies not only in the succinct quality of the descriptions, but also in the clear tables and diagrams. Without wishing to detract from the seminal nature of Li Shi Zhen's Pulse Diagnosis (Paradigm Publications, trans. Hoc Ku Huynh, 1981) from which the current work draws considerably, nor from the usefulness of Bob Flaws' Secret of Chinese Pulse Diagnosis (Blue Poppy Press, 1995), I find the current work more conveniently organised for quick reference.
The third section of the book is devoted to the pulse qualities associated with the various TCM diagnoses of commonly presented western disease categories. If we could all use pulses to differentiate this clearly (and if the pulses always behaved themselves as expected!) we'd be home and dry.
The final section of the book is a translation of the eighth volume of the Mai Jing, a fundamental historical work. Personally I find it fascinating, but I need to be persuaded of its use in a book whose purpose is to act as a quick reference.
A couple of final comments: some of the pulse qualities are not translated by their most usual English names. The quality usually referred to as 'wiry', for example, is called 'string-like' instead; so it is good that we are also given the pin yin (in this case xian mai). Less redeemable are the occasional errors of proof reading: I thought at first glance, for example, that the author was categorising the slippery pulse as rapid (p. 29) before I realised that 'rapid' should have read 'replete'. Overall, though, I would recommend the book to any practitioner, recently qualified or experienced, who feels the need to become more confident in
Simon Fielding runs a practice in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in Leicester. He used to teach at the LCTA in London and he helps to edit EJOM.