Summary and book reviews of My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

My Age of Anxiety

Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind

By Scott Stossel

My Age of Anxiety
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2014,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: 4 Nov 2014,
    416 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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About this Book

Book Summary

A riveting, revelatory, and moving account of the author's struggles with anxiety, and of the history of efforts by scientists, philosophers, and writers to understand the condition.
 
As recently as thirty-five years ago, anxiety did not exist as a diagnostic category. Today, it is the most common form of officially classified mental illness. Scott Stossel gracefully guides us across the terrain of an affliction that is pervasive yet too often misunderstood.

Drawing on his own long-standing battle with anxiety, Stossel presents an astonishing history, at once intimate and authoritative, of the efforts to understand the condition from medical, cultural, philosophical, and experiential perspectives. He ranges from the earliest medical reports of Galen and Hippocrates, through later observations by Robert Burton and Søren Kierkegaard, to the investigations by great nineteenth-century scientists, such as Charles Darwin, William James, and Sigmund Freud, as they began to explore its sources and causes, to the latest research by neuroscientists and geneticists.

Stossel reports on famous individuals who struggled with anxiety, as well as on the afflicted generations of his own family. His portrait of anxiety reveals not only the emotion's myriad manifestations and the anguish anxiety produces but also the countless psychotherapies, medications, and other (often outlandish) treatments that have been developed to counteract it. Stossel vividly depicts anxiety's human toll - its crippling impact, its devastating power to paralyze - while at the same time exploring how those who suffer from it find ways to manage and control it.

My Age of Anxiety is learned and empathetic, humorous and inspirational, offering the reader great insight into the biological, cultural, and environmental factors that contribute to the affliction.

Excerpt
My Age of Anxiety

Some eighty years ago, Freud proposed that anxiety was "a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a flood of light on our whole mental existence." Unlocking the mysteries of anxiety, he believed, would go far in helping us to unravel the mysteries of the mind: consciousness, the self, identity, intellect, imagination, creativity — not to mention pain, suffering, hope, and regret. To grapple with and understand anxiety is, in some sense, to grapple with and understand the human condition.

The differences in how various cultures and eras have perceived and understood anxiety can tell us a lot about those cultures and eras. Why did the ancient Greeks of the Hippocratic school see anxiety mainly as a medical condition, while Enlightenment philosophers saw it as an intellectual problem? Why did the early existentialists see anxiety as a spiritual condition, while Gilded Age doctors saw it as a specifically Anglo-Saxon stress response &mdash...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

[Stossel's] writing is personal and extraordinarily brave. He exposes his struggle to function in daily life, recounts difficult therapy sessions, admits to gut-wrenching anxiety that caused him to soil himself, remembers walking out in the middle of his own speeches, and quietly mentions moments of stress and abuse he suffered as a child. Stossel’s ability to unabashedly share his experiences creates a strong sense of humanity in his book, and his first-person narrative is very effective in de-stigmatizing neurotic fear.   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

Full Review Members Only (1172 words).

Media Reviews
The Wall Street Journal

In dissecting his own acute case, along with the disorder that afflicts him, he offers a degree of understanding to the rest of us—along with a modicum of comfort and even hope to those who must trudge through life chronically anxious despite their seeming good fortune.

Elle Magazine

A carefully reported, wryly funny, and admirably honest historical and personal investigation.

The New York Times

Ambitious and bravely intimate…A thrilling intellectual chase.

The Seattle Times

[Stossel], brings his dogged fact-digging skills to this work, which is peppered with humor and humility, remarkably balanced—and generous to the point of philanthropy with his deeply personal, hard-won knowledge. Plus, the man is a lovely writer.

The Boston Globe

The book is astonishingly thorough and lucidly written. It’s a fascinating look at that linchpin of the human condition—the primitive fight-or-flight response—and how it resides in our psyches in a time of IEDs and SSRIs. Rare will be the reader who doesn’t spot him or herself somewhere in Stossel’s sweeping analysis, as he digs into parenting styles, performance stress, talk therapy, medication, depression, fear of flying, blushing, you name it.

O Magazine

Scott Stossel’s erudite, heartfelt, and occasionally darkly funny meld of memoir, cultural history, and science, feels excruciatingly relevant.

Publishers Weekly

Stossel's journey through his own life is unsparing, darkly funny (a nervous stomach tends to flare up at the worst times, like in front of JFK Jr.), but above all, hopeful.

Booklist

Starred Review. His deft handling of a delicate topic and frustrating illness highlights the existential dread, embarrassment, and desperation associated with severe anxiety yet allows room for resiliency, hope, transcendence. Absolutely fearless writing.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Powerful, eye-opening and funny. Pitch-perfect in his storytelling, Stossel reminds us that, in many important ways, to be anxious is to be human.

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Unusual Phobias

Snow covered trees in GermanyIn My Age of Anxiety, Scott Stossel - journalist and editor of The Atlantic magazine - describes, in intimate detail, how stressful living with a phobia can be. According to the American Psychological Association, a phobia is a "persistent and irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that is excessive and unreasonable, given the reality of the threat," and in Stossel's case, he suffers from at least ten, including emetophobia (fear of vomiting – there's an entire chapter on this), agoraphobia (fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places), and even turophobia (fear of cheese). After a little research, I was interested to find out that turophobia is just one of many uncommon and surprising phobias that ...

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