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A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac [Paperback]

Edward Shorter
2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 3 1998
"PPPP . . . To compress 200 years of psychiatric theory and practice into a compelling and coherent narrative is a fine achievement . . . . What strikes the reader [most] are Shorter's storytelling skills, his ability to conjure up the personalities of the psychiatrists who shaped the discipline and the conditions under which they and their patients lived."--Ray Monk The Mail on Sunday magazine, U.K.

"An opinionated, anecdote-rich history. . . . While psychiatrists may quibble, and Freudians and other psychoanalysts will surely squawk, those without a vested interest will be thoroughly entertained and certainly enlightened."--Kirkus Reviews.

"Shorter tells his story with immense panache, narrative clarity, and genuinely deep erudition."--Roy Porter Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.

In A History of Psychiatry, Edward Shorter shows us the harsh, farcical, and inspiring realities of society's changing attitudes toward and attempts to deal with its mentally ill and the efforts of generations of scientists and physicians to ease their suffering. He paints vivid portraits of psychiatry's leading historical figures and pulls no punches in assessing their roles in advancing or sidetracking our understanding of the origins of mental illness.

Shorter also identifies the scientific and cultural factors that shaped the development of psychiatry. He reveals the forces behind the unparalleled sophistication of psychiatry in Germany during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as the emergence of the United States as the world capital of psychoanalysis.

This engagingly written, thoroughly researched, and fiercely partisan account is compelling reading for anyone with a personal, intellectual, or professional interest in psychiatry.

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From Amazon

The history of madness and its treatment is a fascinating one. At one time, the mentally ill were diagnosed as demonically possessed; later, when mental illness became the province of psychoanalysts, those conditions that are actually physical in nature, such as schizophrenia or manic depression, went insufficiently treated, their sufferers consigned to asylums. In his book, A History of Psychiatry, Edward Shorter, a medical historian at the University of Toronto, presents a concise chronology of mental illness and its treatment. Shorter favors a biological understanding of these disorders, concentrating on medical approaches to helping the seriously mentally ill. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Shorter cites recent research indicating that adult-onset schizophrenia is genetically influenced and often traceable to uterine trauma or difficult birth. In his view, brain biology and genetics underlie much mental illness, and biological psychiatry-combining drugs with psychotherapy-has replaced Freudian psychoanalysis as the dominant paradigm for explaining and treating a host of disorders. In this richly informative, iconoclastic, sure-to-be-controversial chronicle, Shorter, professor of the history of medicine at the University of Toronto, argues that Freud, by turning psychoanalysis into a movement instead of a method of objective inquiry, fostered a stifling orthodoxy, therapists' arrogance toward patients and scientific stagnation. He defends electroshock as a valuable tool in the treatment of depression; identifies German physician Emil Kraepelin, systematizer of diagnoses-rather than Freud-as the central figure in the history of psychiatry; and dismisses as unhistorical nonsense Michel Foucault's theory that psychiatry arose in a collusion between capitalism and the state as a means to control deviant individuals. While this study won't end the nature-versus-nurture debate, it mounts a formidable challenge to strict adherents of the talking therapies. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Confusing history with propaganda Aug. 8 2011
By Mira de Vries TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Maybe I was wrong. When I reviewed Gemma Blok's history of anti-psychiatry in the Netherlands, I criticized her for interjecting her opinions, instead of sticking to reporting the facts. Perhaps that's not how historians see their role. Edward Shorter never even bothers to make a pretense of objectivity. I do admit that his unashamedly judgmental writing style makes for a stirring read. Let me be equally unashamedly judgmental about him.

For one thing, Shorter loves psychiatry. That's clear. For another, there's no mistaking what his favored model of psychiatry is. He lavishes praise on early German psychiatry which was well-funded by the state, enabling plenty of experimentation, as "the triumphs of science" add to the national prestige. He even goes so far as describing the structure within which Kraepelin worked as "majesty." On France of the same period he pours scorn for being "a second-rate psychiatric power," whereas in pitiful England, where teaching hospitals were dependent on charity, there was little science at all, according to Shorter.

Shorter credits Kraepelin, a neurologist according to him, with being the inventor of psychotherapy, although it wasn't called that at the time of course. Wealthy people loathed asylums, so they avoided them by pretending their personal problems were neurological diseases. That's why they became known as neuroses. Neurologists soon recognized the role of placebo treatments (which worked) for these non-diseases, although neurology is actually, according to Shorter, the science of unusual and incurable diseases of the central nervous system.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mind Medicine -- Psychic or Somatic Nov. 18 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Shorter's book is an important addition to the history of psychiatry. It falls short because of Shorter's "over kill" in his polemic against psychoanalysis. The Freudian perspective needs thoughtful criticism, but Shorter's attacks become carping. Psychoanalysis has made important cultural contributions, and many people have received benefit from the analyst's couch. Good history should have a direction, even a perspective. But Shorter's history would have been better served with a calmer and more balanced voice.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shorter's opinion on the history of psychiatry Sept. 2 2003
By G Marx
Format:Paperback
I really enjoyed the part of this book on the history of psychiatry. Unfortunately only about 60% of the book is on this topic and the rest consists of Shorter's unbalanced opinions. As a Psychiartic Registrar/resident slightly more simpathetic to the Biological approach, even I found this book extremely biased. Shorter's concrete style of reasoning makes him far more suitable to write a book on the history of surgery. The finer nuances and richness of the field of psychiatry is clearly outside his grasp.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mind Medicine -- Psychic or Somatic Nov. 18 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Shorter's book is an important addition to the history of psychiatry. It falls short because of Shorter's "over kill" in his polemic against psychoanalysis. The Freudian perspective needs thoughtful criticism, but Shorter's attacks become carping. Psychoanalysis has made important cultural contributions, and many people have received benefit from the analyst's couch. Good history should have a direction, even a perspective. But Shorter's history would have been better served with a calmer and more balanced voice.
Was this review helpful to you?
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a one-sided polemic May 24 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book is a one-sided polemic. The author clearly believes that only the "biological" approach to psychiatry is worth anything, but instead of presenting his case as an honest argument, he gives us a weighted, colored, and biased view of history. I was very disappointed.
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