A highly compelling, only occasionally overstated assessment of the role of psychotropic drugs in the treatment of mental...




A history and personal exploration of psychotropic drugs and medical procedures for treating mental illness and depression.

In this ambitious undertaking, psychologist Slater (Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother, 2013, etc.) applies vigorous research and intimate reflection to the issues involved with treating mental suffering. Along the way, she asserts thought-provoking yet potentially controversial views and conclusions. The author is open about her long-standing struggles with depression. “My adulthood,” she writes, “has been marked—marred—by periodic depressions preceded by stupid, inane manias.” She is also fairly transparent about her agenda: “I wrote this book in part so I could examine some of the drugs I take, and others I never have. I wrote it in part hoping I would find, in my research, that there really are physical substrates to mental suffering.” Through stories, case studies, and scientific investigation, Slater considers a broad spectrum of treatments used over the last century. The author includes discussions of the early successes of Thorazine and Lithium; early antidepressants, including the phenomenon of Prozac and her lengthy experiences with that medication; some enlightening examples of positive placebo tests and startlingly effective experiments with hallucinogenic drugs; and an overview of the evolution of relevant medical procedures, including “neural implants, the only malleable and reversible form of psychosurgery.” Slater also confronts the shockingly random nature of decision-making processes within the medical and pharmaceutical communities, whether in the development of psychotropic drugs, the prescribed treatments, or the actual diagnosis of the various psychological disorders. Ultimately, the author finds great hope in hallucinogens such as LSD, “magic mushrooms,” and MDMA. “The psychedelics allow patients stuck in self-destructive patterns of thought or behavior to view themselves and their role in the universe in a radically different light,” she writes. “They appear to illuminate death, or the limit of life, and in so doing to underscore its preciousness.”

A highly compelling, only occasionally overstated assessment of the role of psychotropic drugs in the treatment of mental health issues.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55253-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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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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