BookBrowse Reviews Against Depression by Peter D. Kramer

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Against Depression

by Peter D. Kramer

Against Depression by Peter D. Kramer X
Against Depression by Peter D. Kramer
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2006, 368 pages

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An eloquent case for considering depression a disease.

From the book jacket: Depression, linked in our culture to a long tradition of “heroic melancholy,” is often understood as ennobling—a source of soulfulness and creativity. Tracing this belief from Aristotle to the Romantics to Picasso, and to present-day memoirs of mood disorder, Kramer suggests that the pervasiveness of the illness has distorted our sense of what it is to be human. There is nothing heroic about depression, Kramer argues, and he presents the latest scientific findings to support the fact that depression is a disease—one that can have far-reaching health effects on its sufferers.

Comment: Kramer says that when he was on tour with Listening to Prozac one question, or variation on a question, kept coming up - what if Prozac had been available in van Gogh's time?  In Against Depression Kramer pushes back against the perception that depression is somehow ennobling - the burden genius must bear, and that humanity would somehow be the poorer if depression was conquered.  In Kramer's mind it is simply a disease, "the most devastating disease known to humankind," that can and should be cured.   He splits his book into three parts - in the first part ("What It Is to Us") he explores why it is we could find depression an attractive (for want of a  better word) condition - tracing the history of depression from Hippocrates through the Renaissance and the romantic "cult of melancholy" to the modern day.  In  the second part, "What It Is", he explores the biology of depression, and in the last part, "What It Will Be" he envisions the benefits of a world free from depression - which he believes would be a world where people could take risks with their emotions more freely in the knowledge that they were protected from the sink-hole of all out depression. 

All in all, a thoughtful, sometimes controversial, look at depression - but I do suggest that, if you are interested in this topic, you read the book rather than listen to the audio version read by Kramer - as, ironically, I found the latter rather depressing.  No doubt he is a fascinating man stuffed full with fascinating ideas but, I'm sorry to say, his reading style was a little dull.

Peter D. Kramer, M.D., recently named host of the national, weekly public radio series, The Infinite Mind, is "possibly the best-known psychiatrist in America," as The New York Times put it. Peter Kramer received his M.D. from Harvard and is the best-selling author of Listening to Prozac, Should You Leave?, Spectacular Happiness, and Moments of Engagement. His latest book, Against Depression, was published in May 2005.

In 2004, two programs of The Infinite Mind hosted by Kramer won top media awards: a Gracie Allen Award from the American Women in Radio and Television for an examination of "Domestic Violence" and a National Mental Health Association Media Award for Between Two Worlds: Mental Health for Immigrants. Kramer has written for The New York Times Magazine and The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book Review, The Washington Post, the (London) Times Literary Supplement and U.S. News & World Report, among other publications. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University, and has a private practice.

This review is from the August 17, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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