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A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac Paperback – Mar 3 1998

2.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 3 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471245313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471245315
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 3 x 23.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 794 g
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #34,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book because of my keen and long-term interest in psychology, psychiatry and its history. I was incredibly excited when I started it, but by page 44 it became the first book in over 8 years I've decided not to finish. 1/7th of the book went by and I'd practically learned little more than what could have been told in two sentences. The writing style was chaotic; barely organized, it jumped from country to century to topic to create one of the most erratic narratives I've had the misfortune of reading. It's pages were filled with so many names, dates and places that it was difficult to pinpoint which ones were worth remembering. The detailed information lost its purpose - instead of communicating concepts, it focused on facts that after a while became empty in their recital. No doubt, this book is well researched and detailed - but it's also probably the driest account of one of the world's most interesting histories. It gave me no *practical* sense of the development of psychiatry. Perhaps if the author had stuck to a primary chronology, location or had created a clearer narrative it would have been the historical account the description claims it is. I personally found it to be a jumble of useless facts obscuring what it so interesting and lively about the topic itself. If one is only looking for fact fodder to find dates and names, this book would be helpful, but I'd steer clear of it as a historical narrative for the purpose of personal reading.

As an aside, the occassional sarcastic, almost judgemental comments the author threw didn't sit well with me. If they had been present within an otherwise amazing narrative, perhaps I wouldn't have minded as much.
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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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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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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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