A fine study of desperate patients and the shrinks who failed them.

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THE MADNESS OF FEAR

A HISTORY OF CATATONIA

The psychiatric establishment blew it on one of the most important mental illnesses, according to this academic treatise.

Shorter (What Psychiatry Left Out of the DSM-5, 2015), a psychiatrist and historian at the University of Toronto, and Fink (Electroshock, 2008), a psychiatrist at Stony Brook University medical school, investigate the vexed history of catatonia, a terrifying mental disorder with a panoply of bizarre symptoms. Catatonic patients can fall into a stupor, staring fixedly into space while frozen into rigid postures for hours on end, refusing to talk, eat, or comply with any request; make strange, repetitive motions and grimaces; or burst into violence and self-mutilation. Though outwardly uncommunicative, sufferers are often alert and feel a sense of extraordinary fear during catatonic episodes, and not without reason—in extreme cases, victims have been mistaken for corpses and buried alive. Catatonia was identified as a distinct disease in 1874, but the psychiatric mainstream during most of the 20th century, the authors contend, incorrectly characterized it as a subtype of schizophrenia, with tragic results. Schizophrenic patients with catatonia were given drugs that were ineffective or made things worse while other cases often went undiagnosed—even though successful treatments, through drugs and electroshock, had been available since the 1930s. Shorter and Fink offer a probing, well-informed, and very readable account of the arcane theorizing and factional struggles by which psychiatrists hashed out a consensus on catatonia, schizophrenia, and other psychic ailments, one that’s enriched with dozens of intriguing case studies. (One patient snapped out of his immobility only when told he was pitching a baseball game, a task he dutifully undertook in the hospital hallway; another did somersaults for weeks until she died.) Their scholarly approach doesn’t preclude colorful opinionating. They write that catatonia “was kidnapped by dementia praecox and schizophrenia, the Bonnie and Clyde of the diagnosis world”; disparage the concept of schizophrenia itself as “a wastebasket for the unclassifiable and untreatable”; and dismiss the whole of Freudian psychoanalysis as “an obscure offshoot of speculative philosophy.” The result is an engrossing portrait of a fearsome and fascinating disease and a searching inquiry into the ways in which doctors misunderstand the mind.

A fine study of desperate patients and the shrinks who failed them.

Pub Date: July 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-088119-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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