Vitalogy: The Book Responsible For Pearl Jam’s Third Album Title

by Rick Roberts
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Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam is responsible for introducing curiosity seekers to 1899’s “Vitalogy.” When the titular music album launched in 1994, millions of copies of the text were subsequently purchased. The tribute text to quackery contains all sorts of material including a treatise on the “self-polluting” behavior of masturbation.

While downright quaint these days, this particular text was given a great deal of respect in its day. Between the years of 1899 and 1930, when a revised edition was published, millions treated Vitalogy as the go-to source for at-home health information. Featuring over 1,000 pages, Vitalogy had a page for just about any medical topic, as well as matters of morality when judging by its commentary on masturbation. Examples of guidance from Vitalogy include what to seek or avoid in matters of marriage, like thinking with one’s heart and brain rather than more carnal forces.

When one pores through enough pages of Vitalogy, the tone of the advice seems to waver in its certainties. One section on putting children to sleep advises mothers to include a foot bath as part of the procedure. Further, it censures mothers who refuse to regularly wash their children’s feet, claiming they are unfit to raise children. Other quirky observations found within the book mention that it is possible for people to easily make it to the age of 75 and, laughably, even last a further 75 by further adhering to its information. For any medical text to claim that humans possess the potential to live one and a half-century is ridiculous; especially when the average life expectancy in 1899 was 50 years. One specific passage claims that despite humanity possessing scant information on its formative years as a species, it is believed that some humans lived for multiple centuries.

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While the text is full of so many medical errors and misguided moralizing that its practicality is negligible, the tome is still worthy of some merit as a piece of literary history. If you happen to stumble upon a copy of Vitalogy, do yourself a favor and pore over some of its pages; while you probably will not come away from the experience any wiser, the degree to which information is inaccurate and speaks beyond its understanding can be downright hilarious!

A few notable good points in the book’s favor is discussing the many rigors of smoking tobacco. Vitalogy is a relic of medical history, with much of its information having been thrown to the winds of inadequacy after all of the advancements in medicine that arose after World War II. Honestly, the best possible uses for a copy of Vitalogy would be to sell it off to a niche collector of books or quackery, use its considerable size, weight and thickness, to level out some furniture or as a coffee table book. These days, a physical collection of folk wisdom and home remedies has little use in the 21st Century beyond reminding us of just how far we have advanced as a species.

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