Firstly, it has to said that 'How Depression Survived: The Evolutionary Basis of Depression' has many things to be said in it's favour. It is concise, succinct and written in such a way as to engage with a popular audience (as oppposed to an esoteric academic circle.) Personal anecdote as well as allusions to film and literary works are all juxtaposed nicely with citations of key scientic studies. Despite this and despite Dr. Keedwell engaging writing style I feel I can only award the book three stars as the thesis that it propounds I feel to be fundamentally flawed.
The book ultimately proved to be disapointing despite my high hopes for it. The book takes as it's starting point that due to mankinds evolutionary heritage it is reasonable to postulate that if Depression is a human universal and not a cultural construct then the roots of it's survival must be as a consequence of it's adaptive function, otherwise it would literally have been bred out of human existence.
The argument that the different mood disorders have their positive aspects is not new - books such as 'Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fuelled His Greatness,' 'The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between a Little Craziness and a Lot of Success in America' plus 'Touched by Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament' have all done likewise - but what is new is the focus upon evolutionary psychology as the key explanatory factor in this equation.
The difficulty I have with the book is not it's use of evolutionary psychology, which I regard as an interesting and novel way of looking at the issues, but that in trying to locate the adaptive function of 'Depression' in human evolution the author presupposes that the contours of the concept of 'Depression' can be agreed upon with any great clarity.
The author does attempt near the beginning of the book to differentiate between:- 1.'DEPRESSION' from what might be described as:- 2. Ordinary and transient 'SADNESS' and then to bifurcate the former into 'mild/moderate' vs 'severe' (or 'melancholic' vs 'non-melancholic') but this in my opinion leads the book into difficulties because as anyone who has read 'The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sadness into Depressive Disorder' will be able to tell you: there are real question marks as to the validity of this distinction.
The erroneous bifurcation upon which the book's thesis is predicated upon leads the author into a maze of his own misconceptions. Dr. Keedwell contends that the 'mild to moderate' end of the Depressive spectrum is, to use the jargon, 'adaptive' in evolutionary terms by virtue of the fact that it forces the sufferer to to take time out and take stock, subsequently a reassessment of life goals can be made and facilitation of greater insight brought forth.
The problem remains that the argument as to whether one can truly truly regard this form of 'mild to moderate' Depression as such or whether it would be better categorised as a normal response to stressors encountered in one's life - i.e as 'SADNESS' -is not dwelt upon in the book thereby fatally undermining the larger points raised. The sub-title of the book namely: 'the evolutionary basis of DEPRESSION' is thus a misnomer.
My advise for anyone wishing to look into the topic more deeply would be to read 'The Anti-Depressant Era' by David Healy and the aforementioned 'The Loss of Sadness.'