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"Whybrow has seen the future." Irene Lacher, The New York Times"

About the Author

Peter C. Whybrow, MD, is director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles. Born and educated in England, he is the author, among other books, of A Mood Apart and the award-winning American Mania: When More Is Not Enough.

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73 of 74 people found the following review helpful
Insightful and Illuminating Book 15 Feb. 2005
By Ramanathan S. Manavasi - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Nickname : Ram Location, Macon, Georgia, USA.

Real Name : Ramanathan S Manavasi

In his book "Our Culture of Pandering" , Paul Simon, a Director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Southern Illinois clearly and pointedly discusses several issues -taxes, social security, civil liberties, crime - that invite pandering.

The brilliant and prophetic book "Why America's Children Cannot Think" authored by Peter Kline argues passionately for viable solutions to America's educational crisis. It offers solutions to our children concerning interpretation skills in the highly competitive information age.

What we see in America normally is a weird intermingling of high ideals with gross materialism, the lofty and vulgar cheek to cheek. The people who detest USA take a look at this odd conjunction and assume the materialistic America is the real America. The real America, they insist, is the resource wasting, TV-drenched unreflective part of the earth. The President's talk about freedom, the high toned language is just a cover, they say, for the quest for oil. Desire for riches, dominion and war.

Viewed in this context, the recent magnum opus of Dr. Peter S Whybrow's "American Mania-- When More Is Not Enough" is a wonderful and comprehensive analysis of the disease that afflicts us all. Drawing upon detailed case studies and alarming statistics of obesity, depression, and panic disorders, offers compassionate guidance offers compassionate guidance. Interestingly, he suggests that our immigrant heritage accounts for our compulsion to push for more. Migrants are by nature risk takers and reward seekers, and we've concentrated tens of millions of them in America. The shared mythology in USA is that we can each enjoy fame and fortune and live in opulence at the top of the social pyramid. All can be first and all can be wealthy.

Why is America at the leading edge of this? Why do we seem to be more maniacal than other countries? We are definitely out there in front, whatever index you use --- the amount we work, the amount we spend, how much we eat. Only 2 percent of the world's population moves in the migrant sense. Most people die within 50 miles of where they were born.

He explains succinctly how food is a symptom of our dysphoria --- it's easy to know when you're hungry but not when your satiated. The average time in McDonald's is 11 minutes, even if you eat there. So there's this urgency, and you go right past your ability to tell whether you're hungry or not, and before you know it, you've eaten too much. After analyzing dysphoria, he comes to affluence. Extraordinary choice itself is affluence. Extraordinary amounts of information coming in through a little handheld instrument . . . how many people do you know who are checking their e-mail every 10 minutes?

The reason for that is that the body has no real upper limits. It's not like going to the gas station and you put the pump into the tank and it automatically shuts off when it's full. We don't have anything like that in the human body. Humans aren't physically set up to deal with affluence. Our body hasn't evolved much in 10,000 years --- minor exceptions, very minor adaptations. So we're really running with a genome that was designed for the hunter-gatherer, who lived under frugal circumstances, was very cunning, worked in social groups and managed their lives pretty effectively. And now we live in incredible affluence, we take virtually no exercise, and we compete with each other continually.

"Tom" is an entrepreneur in Whybrow's book who says he was once "the world's most frequent flier," a frenzied businessman who flew around the world at least once a month. Tom is reformed now, having watched his business addiction destroy his personal life. TOM is also an acronym for "Toward Optimum Mindfulness".

The four "rules of Tom" : 1. Your time is yours, so use it wisely, 2. Make technology work for you, not vice-versa, 3. Eat responsibly and in company, 4. Honor your body are solutions to the accelerated and disorganizing effect of manic behavior.

Prof. Robert Cloninger's TCI (Temperament and Character Inventory) described on pp 80, our search for the edge delineated on pp 121, the obesity pandemic dealt with on pp 154, are all nice and novel insights. The difference in meaning of `happiness' and `pleasure' in English and French is a nice distinction. Fundamental to personal happiness is the emotional insight gained from living honestly in the moment. The fact that clocks disrupt the harmonious rhythms of inner time is elaborately dealt with in pp 238. Finding an optimum balance between self and society is a matter of personal responsibility. Time, technology, appetites and activity are considered in a new light for finding balance on pp 241.

To find balance in life, the author Peter Whybrow divides his time between the urban frenzy of Los Angeles and the solitude of Plainfield, New Hampshire. No wonder.

This book is a golden mine of information for people willing to accept the disturbing truths regarding USA and proceed toward optimum mindfulness. Grab a book and jumpstart your perspectives.
151 of 167 people found the following review helpful
Is America Manic? 22 Feb. 2005
By David Gregory - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Peter Whybrow's American Mania: When More Is Not Enough

Reviewed by Dr. David Gregory

As a cultural anthropologist, I spent decades studying the problems and opportunities of international labor migration. Later, I left academia and immersed myself in the world of international commerce and finance. My experience has left me hard to impress. I am impressed with Dr. Peter Whybrow's book, American Mania: When More is Not Enough. I found it insightful, challenging and ultimately empowering.

Dr. Whybrow invites us to look at where we have arrived after three incredible centuries, to contemplate the paradoxes of our unique prosperity and its current effects on our physical health, our state of mind, the quality of our social relations, and the future direction of our nation. He does so from a unique perspective derived from his expertise in medicine, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. His deep concern is that the "fabulous" turbo-paced, technologically driven society we Americans have built is outpacing our physiological abilities to adjust and may therefore be unsustainable. Presenting facts and provocative case studies, he offers a convincing argument that, "In our compulsive drive for more, we are making ourselves sick."

As a people we are suffering from obesity, the burdens of debt, and shallow social relations fractured by unbridled self-interest. As a result, we are taking an increasing amount of drugs in a desperate attempt to treat stress-related diseases, depression, and high blood pressure. "We are sleeping less, working longer, spending less time with our families in the manic rush to earn more money to buy more goods that leave us wanting more."

At least one critic has implied that Dr. Whybrow is a Luddite, clinging to the past and disdaining technology and technological progress, in fact, Dr. Whybrow is a staunch advocate of the benefits technology and has used it to address a variety of medical illnesses. He has played a prominent role in the development of modern technologies to better understand how the brain works and has pioneered innovative treatments for some of the more malignant forms of manic-depressive illness. He has dedicated his book to his brother, John Whybrow, a leader of technologically driven enterprises. If you look on the web, you will see that John Whybrow was the Executive Vice President of Royal Philips Electronics in Holland. He is currently the Chairman of the Board of Blue Tooth, wireless technologies.

The author of American Mania knows what he is talking about as a result of his academic background and medical expertise. He also knows what he is talking about as a result of his own personal experience in striving and achieving within the force fields presented by American institutions. He is the Director of one of the world's most prominent Institutes of Neuroscience and Human behavior with a yearly budget of 250 million dollars and a faculty and staff of 3,800 people dedicated to research, teaching and care-giving. Combating the comment of one critic, I would suggest that is hardly a stress free job in a "rarified habitat."

Nor is his a condescending voice that touts the superiority of the "Old Europe" and longs for its traditions. On the contrary, Dr. Whybrow himself is among those ambitious, hard working, curiosity-driven, risk taking, competitive migrants whom he sees as having had an incredible impact on the formation of the American temperament. He is one of the 2% of the world population that chose to move further than 50 miles from where he was born.

Dr. Whybrow migrated from London in the mid-sixties and became a US citizen in the early seventies. As such, he is among those Americans whom he describes as, "a self-selected group of hard-working opportunists with an insatiable hunger for self-improvement." In an interesting argument, he attributes the insatiable hunger to our genetic heritage. Whybrow proposes that immigrants actually have a "higher frequency of the exploratory and novelty seeking D4-7 allele in the dopamine reward system of the brain."

As a cultural anthropologist, my strong bias is to steer away from too close a linkage between genes and behavior. However, YC Ding and others in the Department of Biological Chemistry, College of Medicine, at the University of California have conducted some intriguing research that indicates that this allele, associated with "attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and the personality trait of novelty seeking," originated as a rare mutation that "increased to high frequency in human populations by positive selection."

Although Whybrow believes that the "American Experiment" is genetic as well as social, his book is not another simplistic approach to genetic determinism handcuffed to socio-biology. As a practicing doctor, trained in endocrinology and neuropsychiatry, he knows that genes, though a contributing factor, are not the blame, as some other reviewers presuppose. In fact, he is not placing blame; he is attempting to help us understand and urging each of us as individuals to take back control of our lives from the merchants and an economic system whose goal is not to make us healthy and happy but to sell us more.

What he does so well throughout the book is try to help us unravel and question how our insatiable drives for security, betterment, material affluence and positive affirmation- fueled by the reward system of our uniquely affluent society-have reached a level that is making us perpetually anxious and fearsome as individuals and confused as a nation. An interesting review by Peder Zane thinks that the book, "speaks to an unease with American Life that can be heard on the left and the right."

This is not a happy book. The author presents some hard facts that some might find a bitter pill to swallow. We Americans tend to have pretty thin skins when it comes to serious social commentary and criticism. The label anti-American pops up too easily. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949), which questioned how the American Dream played out for the legion of failed battlers like Willy Loman, got him in a lot of trouble with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. We seem to be more open to searching criticism if it is delivered by humorists like: Mark Twain, Art Buchwald, Bill Maher or Homer Simpson who says, "Good things don't end in eum, they end in mania or teria."

I believe that if we are going to keep the "American Experiment" on track we need to listen to thinkers like Peter Whybrow, Jared Diamond and Robert D. Kaplan. They demonstrate how the group can provoke individuals within it to behave in ways that are ultimately self destructive. Peer pressures, cultural norms and expectations generate maladaptive behavior that becomes self-perpetuating. Even those afflicted don't realize that there might be a problem. Dr. Whybrow does an enormous service in making us more aware of the problems and in so doing gives us a chance to find individually appropriate solutions.

In the last chapter he clearly states that we as individuals are equally responsible for the decisions we make and the society we construct. Contrary to the criticism levied by one another reviewer, he is not calling for new government programs and social engineering. He argues that each one of us can do something about "too much fat, too little sleep, too much dept, too little time with our families" and that small changes in our own behavior can make a big difference.

I know that this may seem naive and futile to some. But, I am reminded of an early winter morning jogging on the beach in Del Mar, California. A freak tide had left tens of thousands of small fish stranded and gasping for air on the sand. I saw a man stop, stoop over, pick up a fish and throw it back into the Pacific. I stopped and watched him do this over and over again. Finally, I walked up to him, smiled knowingly, and said, "You know that really doesn't make any difference." He stooped over, picked up a fish and as he threw it into the water, and said, "It does to this one."
43 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Pleasure seeking - and its boundaries 21 Mar. 2005
By John Zxerce - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The thesis of Whybrow's book is one that rings true, "In our relentless pursuit of happiness, we have overshot the target and spawned a manic society with an insatiable appetite for more." He does a great job of clearly identifying the problem as he sets down an indictment of American society, suggesting America's supercharged free-market capitalism shackles us to a treadmill of overconsumption, fraying the family and leaving us anxious, alienated and overweight.

In attempting to diagnose the 'why' behind the 'what', Whybrow suggests "the dopamine reward systems of the brain are... hijacked, and genes are to blame: programmed to crave material rewards on the austere savanna, they go bananas in an economy of superabundance. Americans are particularly susceptible because they are descended from immigrants with a higher frequency of the "exploratory and novelty-seeking D4-7 allele" in the dopamine receptor system, which predisposes them to impulsivity and addiction."

I'm not convinced about this. America is too big a melting pot for such a seemingly broad-sweeping, all-inclusive answer. Furthermore, I question the science behind the assertion.

However, I believe he's spot on when he writes, "The mind is prone to addiction," Whybrow claims, "Everybody is capable of becoming addicted to something - wine, sex, food, exercise, the very pursuit of happiness. Paradoxically, freedom without restraint is enervating, not liberating. There's a difference between pleasure and happiness; happiness depends on limits."'

Here is the greatest contribution of the book. His statement is something which is unpopular, and at the same time corresponds with the human condition. "Happiness depends on limits." This is where I believe Whybrow breaks through, but at the same time leaves the reader asking for more. Where are those limits to be placed? What functions in society should determine limits? Are boundaries objective - applying to all people, in all times, and in all places? Do they move from individual to individual? Does God exist? If so, does His will/perspective determine where the boundaries of the creation are set? These are the questions I wish Whybrow had explored in order to make this book so much more.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Misreading of his sources 25 April 2006
By Michael A. Connolly - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I started this book with anticipation and the further I went the more disappointed I became. Whybrow makes an interesting arguement that Americans are slamming up against limits they refuse to recognize - biological limits like how much change the mind and body can absorb. He calls this the Fast Society and his argument builds upon earlier historians who noted the psychological effect of the closing of the frontier in the 1870's.

Whybrow's primary hypothesis, however, is that there is something GENETICALLY special about Americans because we are descended from restless people. He traces both innovation (good) and inability to handle limits (bad) to this genetic material.

There are two big problems with this thesis: First, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and Canada are all immigrant societies, too. For Whybrow's hypothesis to hold, they must also manifest these traits - irrespective of their political and social institutions. Whybrow does not think to ask.

Second, Whybrow quotes deTocqueville's Democracy in America at least three dozen times in defence of the special (genetically based) character of Americans. Yet deTocqueville's most passionate (and perhaps famous) chapter compares the people living on both sides of the Ohio River, in Ohio and Kentucky. Tocqueville notes that these are ethnically the very same people - often closely related, yet the two societies differed drastically with respect to innovation, industriousness, independence and initiative. He was disturbed by the slovenly habits of Kentuckians, their disdain for work, their lack of initiative or enterprise.

From this observation, deTocqueville argued that slave-owning was profoundly enervating and corrupting, even of the vast majority who owned no slaves. That Ohio and other parts of America owed their creativity and restless energy to democracy itself - and that the slave-owning south was not completely democratic, but stunted.

This is one of DeTocqueville's most famous arguments and it directly contradicts Whybrow's hypothesis. Whybrow never confronts this. After awhile I started to wonder if he really had read DeTocqueville, or whether some graduate student was supplying him with quotes.

Finally, Whybrow appears unfamiliar with previous (famous) critics of the soul-destroying aspects of American society - Whyte's Organization Man and Roszak's Where the Wasteland Ends come to mind.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A New Perspective on Today's Society 13 Oct. 2005
By Karl J. Hanson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is quite thought provoking. The author, a psychiatrist, has observed manic behavior in today's society, comparable to the manic behavior observed in his patients. The driving force of this mania is today's fast paced economic engine. There is much to be learned here, as the topics cover a wide range of subjects from economics to brain chemistry.

The book is a well written, especially the beginning chapter, which is a brilliant expose of the author's theory on American society. By the end of the journey, I suppose the lesson is pretty simple: People need to slow down and take time for each other. There is also another important lesson, concerning the negative impact that large American mega corporations have on local community economics and foreign cultures.

My one complaint is minor, regarding the ending of the book and "The Rules of T.O.M.". Tom is a real person and an American Manic. He is a former Olympic level athlete, an Ivy League graduate, and a deal maker always living on the edge. By the end of the book, Tom has changed his ways, now putting his energies into curing people of their manic ways. These anecdotal rules are not the type of ending that I was hoping for. I felt that this was like a plot contrivance to "wrap things up", and it came across as a bit too neat. Had Tom truly experienced an epiphany of sorts? Had Tom "gone to Hell and back" and truly reformed his manic ways? Or is Tom someone who saw an opportunity to make money curing this newly identified American social illness?

Dr. Whybrow's thoughts concerning the need for human empathy are profound. He writes that empathetic skills are learned behavior, and it is a parent's responsibility to foster a child's development of empathetic behavior. This is becoming increasingly more difficult as the media promotes self-centered behavior. I've also read similar books of this genre, such as "The Closing of the American Mind", that reinforce many of these same ideas.
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