A wholly satisfying mix of memoir, cultural history and investigative journalism.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANXIETY

...YOURS AND MINE

Novelist and USA Today contributor Pearson (Area Woman Blows Gasket, 2005, etc.) insightfully probes one of the oldest—and least-understood—psychological conditions.

In this slim but well-constructed book, the author weaves her own experiences—she was officially diagnosed with “generalized anxiety disorder” at age 23, following a nervous breakdown caused by her breakup with a man she “loved as fiercely as Heloise loved Abelard”—with a lively history of anxiety and its many sufferers. She begins by exploring the murky relation among fear, anxiety and depression: “Our fears are private, arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and very often masked. Anxiety rages undetected in the mind, both secretive and wild.” And she employs a pleasing blend of personal anecdote and historical context. Despite her often playful tone and poetic, evocative language, Pearson provides countless intriguing historical examples, backed by an extensive notes section, including discussions of ancient philosophy, medicine and theology; Darwin’s treatment of his hypochondria (he was sprayed with a hose); American composer Allen Shawn’s agoraphobia; and the Middle Ages practice of summoning animals to court to stand trial, simply in the interest of holding something accountable when things went awry. She also examines contemporary manifestations of anxiety: widespread depression and fear of being fired from one’s job; pressure to succeed, illustrated by the case of Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore who in 2006 was shown to have plagiarized most of her much-hyped debut novel from other authors; and Flu Wiki, a website devoted to those obsessed with an epidemic outbreak of influenza. Most readers won’t be surprised to learn that, according to a World Mental Health Survey, the “United States has the highest level of anxiety in the world, with a lifetime prevalence rate of 28.8 percent.” (Compare that with Mexico, in which, according to the author, 93.4 percent of people have never experienced an instance of anxiety or depression.) The author concludes with a chronicle of her negative experiences with prescription drugs like Effexor and Lexapro, and the charge—a common one these days—that psychiatrists are overprescribing in lieu of less-invasive treatments like behavioral therapy.

A wholly satisfying mix of memoir, cultural history and investigative journalism.

Pub Date: March 4, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59691-298-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2008

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

HALLUCINATIONS

Acclaimed British neurologist Sacks (Neurology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.; The Mind’s Eye, 2010, etc.) delves into the many different sorts of hallucinations that can be generated by the human mind.

The author assembles a wide range of case studies in hallucinations—seeing, hearing or otherwise perceiving things that aren’t there—and the varying brain quirks and disorders that cause them in patients who are otherwise mentally healthy. In each case, he presents a fascinating condition and then expounds on the neurological causes at work, drawing from his own work as a neurologist, as well as other case studies, letters from patients and even historical records and literature. For example, he tells the story of an elderly blind woman who “saw” strange people and animals in her room, caused by Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a condition in with the parts of the brain responsible for vision draw on memories instead of visual perceptions. In another chapter, Sacks recalls his own experimentation with drugs, describing his auditory hallucinations. He believed he heard his neighbors drop by for breakfast, and he cooked for them, “put their ham and eggs on a tray, walked into the living room—and found it completely empty.” He also tells of hallucinations in people who have undergone prolonged sensory deprivation and in those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, migraines, epilepsy and narcolepsy, among other conditions. Although this collection of disorders feels somewhat formulaic, it’s a formula that has served Sacks well in several previous books (especially his 1985 bestseller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and it’s still effective—largely because Sacks never turns exploitative, instead sketching out each illness with compassion and thoughtful prose.

A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95724-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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