NONFICTION : LOVE, MEDICINE & MIRACLES by Bernie S. Siegel MD (Harper & Row: $15.95; 256 pp., illustrated).

Bernie Siegel, a New Haven, Conn., surgeon, writes that disease results from chronic stress, life crises, depression, suppressed anger, poor self-esteem. Other factors contribute, but these dominate. "Happy people generally don't get sick." Having provoked their disease, patients must play the major role in curing it by adopting a positive, life-affirming attitude, achieving inner peace, learning to give love unconditionally while not slighting their own needs. They must also take control of therapy, never submitting passively.

Treating mostly cancer patients, the author uses whatever surgery or chemotherapy is appropriate--unless a patient prefers something else. Siegel believes that any therapy works if a patient believes in it. He states this so baldly that I wonder why he continues to operate when carrot juice plus his own enthusiasm would work as well. And his enthusiasm is overwhelming.

The book is full of case histories from Exceptional Cancer Patients, a group he founded in which members share angers, fears and triumphs in a friendly, supportive atmosphere. It sounds like a group any good oncologist would encourage patients to join. Although members use conventional and "alternative" therapy, plus meditation, guided visualization and other techniques advocated by the author, it's not clear that these do more than improve the quality of life. Despite dozens of dramatic self-healing stories (I counted 41), Siegel never claims that his patients have a higher survival rate. The book works best as a passionate exhortation to care for yourself, emotionally as well as physically. As a treatise on disease, it's trendy but ultimately oppressive. If you get sick, don't blame your loveless childhood. And find a good doctor.

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