The Urge: Book summary and reviews of The Urge by Carl Erik Fisher

The Urge

Our History of Addiction

by Carl Erik Fisher

The Urge by Carl Erik Fisher X
The Urge by Carl Erik Fisher
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Book Summary

An authoritative, illuminating, and deeply humane history of addiction - a phenomenon that remains baffling and deeply misunderstood despite having touched countless lives - by an addiction psychiatrist striving to understand his own family and himself

Even after a decades-long opioid overdose crisis, intense controversy still rages over the fundamental nature of addiction and the best way to treat it. With uncommon empathy and erudition, Carl Erik Fisher draws on his own experience as a clinician, researcher, and alcoholic in recovery as he traces the history of a phenomenon that, centuries on, we hardly appear closer to understanding—let alone addressing effectively.

As a psychiatrist-in-training fresh from medical school, Fisher was soon face-to-face with his own addiction crisis, one that nearly cost him everything. Desperate to make sense of the condition that had plagued his family for generations, he turned to the history of addiction, learning that the current quagmire is only the latest iteration of a centuries-old story: humans have struggled to define, treat, and control addictive behavior for most of recorded history, including well before the advent of modern science and medicine.

A rich, sweeping account that probes not only medicine and science but also literature, religion, philosophy, and public policy, The Urge illuminates the extent to which the story of addiction has persistently reflected broader questions of what it means to be human and care for one another. Fisher introduces us to the people who have endeavored to address this complex condition through the ages: physicians and politicians, activists and artists, researchers and writers, and of course the legions of people who have struggled with their own addictions. He also examines the treatments and strategies that have produced hope and relief for many people with addiction, himself included. Only by reckoning with our history of addiction, he argues—our successes and our failures—can we light the way forward for those whose lives remain threatened by its hold.

The Urge is at once an eye-opening history of ideas, a riveting personal story of addiction and recovery, and a clinician's urgent call for a more expansive, nuanced, and compassionate view of one of society's most intractable challenges.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Fisher, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, makes a striking debut by skillfully combining a cultural history of addiction with his own story of recovery...There's as much history here as there is heart." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"After robust and sustained criticism of most current approaches to treating addiction, readers will hope for more information about what does work...A useful but flawed personal and professional examination of addiction and how it has impacted humans and baffled experts." - Kirkus Reviews

"Fisher, a psychiatrist and a patient recovering from addiction, wonders, 'Is everyone somewhere on the addiction spectrum?' What factors—biological, psychological, social, cultural—play a role? A unique perspective on a frustrating, often devastating problem." - Booklist

"The Urge is an absolutely brilliant exploration of humanity's ever-present struggle with addiction, or what psychiatrist Carl Erik Fisher calls 'the terrifying breakdown of reason.' Dr. Fisher's firsthand experience, as both a doctor and a patient, gives The Urge a layer of insight that deepens its historical focus. Readers will walk away with a nuanced grasp of the high stakes of our broken medical system and the bias baked into our understanding of addiction and mental illness in general. This book is special—as edifying as it is electrifying, as meaningful as it is humane." - Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire

"Carl Erik Fisher's The Urge is the best-written and most incisive book I've read on the history of addiction. In the midst of an overdose crisis that grows worse by the hour and has vexed America for centuries, Fisher has given us the best prescription of all: understanding. He seamlessly blends a gripping historical narrative with memoir that doesn't self-aggrandize; the result is a full-throated argument against blaming people with substance use disorder. The Urge is a propulsive tour de force that is as healing as it is enjoyable to read." - Beth Macy, author of Dopesick

"The Urge is an insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully written book that stands to revolutionize our understanding of one of medicine's—and society's—most challenging problems. Carl Erik Fisher is a masterful physician-writer who is equally attentive to the grand sweep of history and the subtleties of each individual's experience of addiction. A remarkable achievement." - Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

This information about The Urge shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Carl Erik Fisher

Carl Erik Fisher is an addiction physician and bioethicist. He is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, where he works in the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry. He also maintains a private psychiatry practice focusing on complementary and integrative approaches to treating addiction. His writing has appeared in Nautilus, Slate, and Scientific American MIND, among other outlets. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his partner and son.

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