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A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac [Paperback]

Edward Shorter
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 Feb 1998
"PPPP . . . To compress 200 years of psychiatric theory and practice into a compelling and coherent narrative is a fine achievement . . . . What strikes the reader [most] are Shorter′s storytelling skills, his ability to conjure up the personalities of the psychiatrists who shaped the discipline and the conditions under which they and their patients lived."––Ray Monk The Mail on Sunday magazine, U.K. "An opinionated, anecdote–rich history. . . . While psychiatrists may quibble, and Freudians and other psychoanalysts will surely squawk, those without a vested interest will be thoroughly entertained and certainly enlightened."––Kirkus Reviews. "Shorter tells his story with immense panache, narrative clarity, and genuinely deep erudition."––Roy Porter Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. In A History of Psychiatry, Edward Shorter shows us the harsh, farcical, and inspiring realities of society′s changing attitudes toward and attempts to deal with its mentally ill and the efforts of generations of scientists and physicians to ease their suffering. He paints vivid portraits of psychiatry′s leading historical figures and pulls no punches in assessing their roles in advancing or sidetracking our understanding of the origins of mental illness. Shorter also identifies the scientific and cultural factors that shaped the development of psychiatry. He reveals the forces behind the unparalleled sophistication of psychiatry in Germany during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as the emergence of the United States as the world capital of psychoanalysis. This engagingly written, thoroughly researched, and fiercely partisan account is compelling reading for anyone with a personal, intellectual, or professional interest in psychiatry.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey Bass; New Ed edition (17 Feb 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471245313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471245315
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 437,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Inside Flap

A History of Psychiatry "Zealot–researchers have seized the history of psychiatry to illustrate how their pet bugaboos—be they capitalism, patriarchy, or psychiatry itself—have converted protest into illness, locking into asylums those who otherwise would be challenging the established order. Although these trendy notions have attained great currency among intellectuals, they are incorrect in that they do not correspond to what happened in history." —Edward Shorter With these words, celebrated historian Edward Shorter fires the opening salvo of his provocative retelling of the history of psychiatry. Writing not as an apologist, but as a clear–sighted and exacting scholar, he traces the evolution of one of medicine’s most volatile disciplines, from its wild and woolly beginning amidst the din of eighteenth–century madhouses, through its more decorous twentieth–century incarnation among the soft lights of Park Avenue consulting offices, to what Shorter considers its present triumph as a bona fide medical specialty. With cinematic scope and precision, Shorter shows us the harsh, farcical, and inspiring realities of society’s changing attitudes toward its mentally ill and the efforts of generations of scientists and physicians to ease their suffering. He takes us inside the eighteenth–century asylums, with their restraints and beatings, and guides us through the landscaped boulevards of the spas and rest homes where the "nervous disorders" of the Victorian elite were treated with bromides, buttermilk, and kind words. He leads us through the teeming "snake pits" of early twentieth–century public mental hospitals and the gleaming laboratories of today’s pharmaceutical cartels. Writing in the tradition of the best social history, Shorter delineates the major scientific and cultural forces that shaped the development of psychiatry. Along the way, he paints vivid portraits of the leading figures—names such as Esquirol and Pinel, Krafft–Ebing and Kraepelin, Freud and Horney—who peopled the history of psychiatry. He pulls no punches in assessing the roles these men and women played in advancing our understanding of the biological origins of mental illness, or sidetracking psychiatry into pseudoscience, metaphysics, and fanaticism. An enthralling account of psychiatry from the era of the asylum to the age of Prozac, A History of Psychiatry is must reading for all behavioral scientists and for anyone interested in the history of a fascinating and influential medical specialty. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

"PPPP . . . To compress 200 years of psychiatric theory and practice into a compelling and coherent narrative is a fine achievement . . . . What strikes the reader [most] are Shorter′s storytelling skills, his ability to conjure up the personalities of the psychiatrists who shaped the discipline and the conditions under which they and their patients lived."—Ray Monk The Mail on Sunday magazine, U.K. "An opinionated, anecdote–rich history. . . . While psychiatrists may quibble, and Freudians and other psychoanalysts will surely squawk, those without a vested interest will be thoroughly entertained and certainly enlightened."—Kirkus Reviews. "Shorter tells his story with immense panache, narrative clarity, and genuinely deep erudition."—Roy Porter Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. In A History of Psychiatry, Edward Shorter shows us the harsh, farcical, and inspiring realities of society′s changing attitudes toward and attempts to deal with its mentally ill and the efforts of generations of scientists and physicians to ease their suffering. He paints vivid portraits of psychiatry′s leading historical figures and pulls no punches in assessing their roles in advancing or sidetracking our understanding of the origins of mental illness. Shorter also identifies the scientific and cultural factors that shaped the development of psychiatry. He reveals the forces behind the unparalleled sophistication of psychiatry in Germany during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as the emergence of the United States as the world capital of psychoanalysis. This engagingly written, thoroughly researched, and fiercely partisan account is compelling reading for anyone with a personal, intellectual, or professional interest in psychiatry.

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Before the end of the eighteenth century, there was no such thing as psychiatry. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Confusing history with propaganda 7 Aug 2011
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and engaging 8 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback
This book is packed with valuable information that will be of interest to a mental health professional and an interested layman alike. Based on a well-researched material, this book brings what could have been a boring subject to life, and makes for a very entertaining reading. It helped me to understand the development of the field before I committed myself to psychiatric training, and in some ways influenced my career choice. While Shorter certainly cannot be mistaken for a fan of psychoanalysis, he does present a well-balanced overview of the history of psychiatry (where psychoanalysis has an important, but not THE MOST important role). In fact, he accepts that organic psychiatry and psychoanalysis each have their place in the discipline, and some of the best minds in the history of psychiatry practised both as appropriate (e.g., Kuhn - the pioneer of imipramine and EEG in Switzerland - was also a trained analyst).

Now that history of psychiatry is examined in Paper 1 of MRCPsych, I think this book ought to be added to the official MRCPsych reading list. Highly recommend.

For those who, like myself, want to explore the subject in more detail, I recommend Dr Shorter's "From Paralysis to Fatigue" and "Shock Therapy" (the former describes the historical development of psychosomatic illness, the latter - the history of ECT).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What about ICD? 7 Dec 2010
Format:Paperback
Reading a book describing the history of your own discipline may not only be interesting and informative, but helpful too. Helpful meaning putting contemporary psychiatric practice in perspective and all the relevant context, which in turn enables one to understand one's place in the society better.
The author begins his story at the end of 18th century and continues with it more or less chronologically, changing specific subjects of interest from chapter to chapter. Generally narration is fluent and makes the book easily readable.
Nevertheless, as I was reading through the book, my misgivings were steadily growing. The author quickly turns out to be biologically-minded, and he doesn't hide it. That wouldn't be fault in itself (I'm also a biological psychiatrist), weren't he acting as a historian rather than ideologist. It results in the unfolding events or people responsible for them being either praised or mocked, depending on whether they are rooted in biological thinking or not, respectively. The author is clearly anti-psychoanalytical and it surfaces now and then. He generally blames psychoanalysis for seriously hampering the development of psychiatry. It's of course clear, now, that psychoanalysis has proved dead end, but such a unilateral account isn't what I expect from historical account of psychiatry.
The book can boast many a positive features, too. Above all it reads well, is enganging and quite thorough.
The last, but most important thing for me - the book has 'history of psychiatry' in it's title, but it doesn't mention 'ICD' even once and you can't find it in the index. That's why I won't give it more than three stars.
Not mentioning 'ICD' the author seriously undermines his authority and makes me not to count this book as authoritative. It's interesting but only partialy helpful.
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14 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quality - and in less space than bag of potatoes 14 Sep 2003
Format:Paperback
I thought this book was excellent. I'm an undergraduate sociologist, who has had to suffer the rabidly feminist, ridiculously prejudiced anti-medical views of many sociological authors. At last 've found a book that's well written, well argued and convincing. It was refreshing to read an account that didn't dismiss the whole of medicine (and psychiatry in particular) as an attempt by the male dominated hierarchy that represents the medical establishment to repress either women or the lower social classes.
What was good about this book was it's arguments. Shorter explains both sides (i.e. biological and psychological) to psychiatry, but then rather than doodling around and saying how he agrees with the biololgical version, but there is something to the anti-psychiatry movement, he comes down emphatically on the side he belives in. There's none of that "it's somebody's opinion, and that can't be wrong" rubbish.
He doesn't shirk from pointing out the historical shortcomings of the medical profession however - Henry Cotton from Trenton who used to remove psychotic patients teeth and large bowel, Adolf Meyer who lept upon each passing bandwagon, and Freud all come up for inspection, before being soundly dismissed with the benefit of hindsight.
One complaint - he uses the word "suicided" for people who commit suicide. I find this verbification is abhorrent (excuse the pun).
The humour (particularly directed towards Meyer) helps lighten the book, which very occasionally feels a little stodgy as names, places of education and various posts fly past rather rapidly. However, that will always happen to some extent in a book summarising the history of psychiatry in such a short space.
Buy it, and urge any sociologists you know to buy it too. At last a book that has some proper perspective.
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