Science journalist Begley (Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, 2007, etc.) delves into specific types of compulsive behaviors while also positing a grand theory of what links seemingly disparate obsessions.
The main types of obsessive behaviors the author examines include shopping, hoarding of material possessions, constant checking of smartphones, playing video games nonstop, additional quirks that fall into the realm of obsessive-compulsive disorders, hyper-conscientiousness, and hyper do-gooding. What connects those behaviors, Begley suggests, is living with anxiety in contemporary times. Although clinical anxiety can be difficult to measure, the author cites research that it afflicts about one of every five U.S. adults in any given year, about three times the rate of clinically diagnosed depression. Because Begley frames many compulsive behaviors as somewhat logical responses to severe individual anxieties, she does not find the behaviors as worrisome as loved ones of the anxiety-ridden might find them. After all, writes the author, a compulsive response to anxiety can be viewed as a sensible, if exaggerated, coping mechanism. The case studies she provides, sometimes to the point of overkill, can seem alarming. Yet often those compulsions do not directly harm others and partially cure the anxious individuals. Part of the book's fascination can be found in Begley's personal case study, as she gradually shifts her view about compulsive behaviors from frightening to logical. She came to believe that hoarders, video game obsessives, and the like should be considered outliers in American society only to the degree of their behaviors, not the behaviors themselves. Their brains are not broken, she writes. As a result, the extreme behaviors often do not require institutionalization or other such drastic responses.
Due to Begley's dense explanations of brain science, the book requires close attention at times, but her captivating, accessible anecdotes of individual cases lead to unforgettable scenarios.