A measured, insightful survey of the limits of contemporary treatment for mental illness.




A thorough and well-researched account of the ongoing attempts to find biological bases for mental illness.

In a surprisingly suspenseful narrative, Harrington (History of Science/Harvard Univ.; The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine, 2008, etc.) traces the conflict between those who believed it would be possible to find biological causes and cures for mental illness and those who suspected that the current scientific tools were too crude to do so and that such illness could only be treated with a series of dialogues between patient and physician. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the author suggests, the biologists had a few victories, such as making the connection between the physical effects of syphilis and its effect on the mind, but they focused primarily on unproductive autopsies of the brains of patients. Meanwhile, the newly popular Freudians won the approval of patients with less severe mental illnesses as well as those attempting to ameliorate their symptoms. Later in the 20th century, as new drugs and techniques such as electroconvulsive therapy were discovered and heavily marketed, the balance swung temporarily toward the biologists—at least until it became clear that these drugs and techniques didn't produce the miracles their proponents initially claimed. After considering this struggle as a whole, Harrington moves on to examining it in the context of several specific forms of mental illness, including schizophrenia, depression, and manic depression. Beneath the author’s firm, stately prose, which never becomes alarmist or provocative, lies a bleak assessment of the mental health profession. Its practitioners come across as hampered by the current, insufficient state of understanding of how the mind functions and malfunctions as well as prompted by jealousy, fear, greed, and a desire to one-up those they see as their competitors. Can psychiatry, Harrington asks, “acknowledge and firmly turn away from its ethical lapses—and especially the willingness of so many of its practitioners in recent decades to follow the money instead of the suffering?”

A measured, insightful survey of the limits of contemporary treatment for mental illness.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-07122-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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