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Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression [Paperback]

L. Wolpert
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Feb 1999
Some years ago Lewis Wolpert had a severe depressive episode: despite a happy marriage and a successful scientific career, he could think only of suicide. When he eventually recovered, he became aware of the stigma attached to depression and of how difficult it was to get reliable information. So he undertook this written investigation into what science and psychiatry - and his own personal experience - could reveal about depression.

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (6 Feb 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057119172X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571191727
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.5 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,134,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

A recent report published by the World Health Organisation states that depression was the fourth most important health problem in the developing world in 1990 (accounting for about three percent of the total burden of illness) and predicts it will be the number one health problem in the developing world in 2020 (accounting for about six percent of the total burden). This astounding statistic reflects how widespread this little-understood, stigmatised illness is. It also points to the enormous financial burden and suffering it causes and will cause in the future.

Lewis Wolpert is Professior of Biology as Applied to Medicine at University College, London, and the author The Unnatural Nature of Science. Several years ago he had a severe depressive episode and could think only of suicide. His erudite and informative Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression is therefore written with the empathy of someone with real knowledge of the mood disorder, but also with scientific cynicism. Wolpert looks at psychological explanations--which focus on the importance of loss and early experience--and biological research which looks at brain functioning and chemistry. He discusses various treatments for depression, such as medication and psychotherapy, with an analysis of what works and for whom. A report on experiences in the treatment of depression in China, Japan, and India is also included. Wolpert hopes that genetic, neuroscience and pharmacy will one day provide a cure. But his advice for immediate treatment would be to combine drug and cognitive therapy. Malignant Sadness doesn't offer quick-fix answers which are characteristic of many pop-psychology manuals on the subject. It's strength is in offering a sober overview of the illness and a thorough look at treatment alternatives.


"'An excellent book, the most objective short account I know of all the various approaches to depression.' Anthony Storr 'Erudite, scholarly, sober and stylish.' Anthony Clare, Sunday Times" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Until one has experienced a debilitating severe depression it is hard to understand the feelings of those who have it. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! Humane! Can I give it 10 Crowns? 8 Oct 1999
By A Customer
This is one of the best books I have read about depression. Lewis Wolpert wrote this book after suffering a bout of intense depression and losing his wife Jill to cancer. He is unafraid and unashamed to write about how his depression felt; the experience may have been frightening, but it is presented without high drama or sensationalism. Dr Wolpert examines how depression is viewed in cultures outside the Western world, and how it is treated - the Chinese experience is particularly fascinating. There is no political axe-grinding here - Oliver James please note - and no miracle cures. The book ends positively without becoming upbeat; it is not a self-help manual, but some addresses of organisations mentioned, such as the UK-basedDepressive Alliance, might be useful.
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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
As a fellow sufferer from clinical depression I can honestly state that this is the best book on the subject I have been able to find. Whether you are a sufferer yourself, know someone who is, or just have an interest in the range of human experience then this book has something for you. Lewis Wolpert approaches the subject from several different directions, allowing the subject to be informed by his own experience not just as a depressive but also as a scientist and a thinker. You won't find any half-arsed psychobabble here - just intelligence, erudition and compassion.
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88 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading ... 5 July 2001
As a sufferer with an interest in and insight into my condition I have read many books on depression. This is the best that I have read. Wolpert presents an intelligent and lucid view of all aspects of this illness from his unique point of view as a sufferer, a scientist and a master communicator. This book should be required reading for all mental health professionals, GPs and anyone who has contact with a depressed person. In fact, everybody should read this.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cogent discussion of depression. 24 July 1999
By A Customer
Lewis Wolpert has written a remarkably clear introduction to depression. Though his reasons for writing this are due to a personal episode of depression, he takes a step back and examines the possible causes and treatments available in a (mostly) cool and rational fashion. Generally, this is a very laudable aproach, though it can make relatively dry reading from time to time. (On the other hand, perhaps it is time that popular books which discuss Scientific and Medical topics should stop molly-coddling its readers) . For a more personal account, I would heartily recommend "Darkness Visible" by William Styron as a companion to this. Getting back to "Malignant Sadness", if there were a second edition, I think his chapter on the structure of the brain could do with some diagrams to help us visualise what's going on. Apart from these relatively minor quibbles, I found it an enormously informative book as an interested outsider. I would definitely recommend it for somebody who is living with, or taking care, of one who has depression.
One final note, though he tries to remain open minded about the various approaches to dealing with depression, it is pretty clear that he is very scornful of psychoanalysis (NOT cognitive therapy, which he is a big fan of). So if you're a big fan of Freud prepare to have your feathers ruffled.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Hence, as the subtitle of the book, `The Anatomy of Depression', suggests, Wolpert is essentially trying to bring some objective security to the diagnosis of depression, where in his experience of it he found confusion and helplessness. Personally, I found a little unseemly his frantic grasping for every fact, every statistic that allowed him to say that something was now `known' about the condition, a discomfort only added to by his almost hysterical bias against any kind of phenomenological approach to understanding oneself as a depressive. Wolpert still approaches depression as an illness you catch, rather than a condition you live with or through; anyone whose read Laing will remember his injunction, `one cannot catch schizophrenia, one becomes schizophrenic.' Similarly, we should be talking about depressive states and tendencies, their recognition and therapeutic engagement, rather than treatments or cures.

Anyway, that aside, the book is well written in terms of its own perspective. There are three rough sections; the first six chapters define the whats and wherefores, seven through nine provide major theories in the areas of genetics, evolutionary psychology, attachment theory and cognitive behavioural therapy. The longest chapter (predictably) centres on discussion of brain regions and their interactions through a complex system of neurotransmitters, auto-receptors and hormone imbalances. The final three chapters are an overview of current treatments, medicinal and therapeutic. Interestingly, Wolpert admits that none of the current treatments are any more effective than each other, and suggests that a mix of treatments based on an individual assessment would be most appropriate.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I came to read this book following the excellent BBC television series which was re-broadcast on the ABC Australia hosted by Geraldine Doogue of 'Life Matters.' The book similar to the series successfully attempts to give an up to date informed and highly educated account and insite into the subject of depression. Professor Wolpert interestingly looks at the issue of depression from a variety of perspectives; he then focuses in on each perspective as he and others see it. For this reason the book is a very good informative read which allows the reader or scholar to go further with research into their specific area of interest. Because depression is becoming an increasingly prevelant issue in society further research for more effective and treatments with fewer side effects are needed. This book I find, gives food for thought and encouragement to people like myself who are concerned about this medical and social problem. I personally recommend this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'Art and Science' of Depression Perfectly Blended
I read this book whilst working in healthcare equity research as I wanted to understand the depression patient's perspective in relation to the drugs in which my employer invested... Read more
Published 16 days ago by Martina Keens-Betts
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced, helpful and clear
I am very grateful to have found this book. I am searching for an explanation for seemingly inexplicable sudden and very severe depression in someone close to me. Read more
Published 2 months ago by P. Gilbey
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book on depression
This is an excellent study on depression and it's related condition anxiety. I would not recommend reading it if you are in the mist of a depressive episode as some of the chapters... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Alexander
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent though not an easy read
I bought this following 20 years or more of on and off clinical depression, hoping for a detailed first-hand account of the condition combined with a scientist's dispassionate... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Terry O'Connor
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Summary of depression
This is well written and he describes his own situation very well. The more I read the book it makes me feel that there are may different types of depression and that some... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Stephen Folan
5.0 out of 5 stars illuminating read
definately an illuminating insight in to the illness of depression
helps you understand that its not a twentieth century problem and has been an illness from way back too
Published 13 months ago by kath mclean
5.0 out of 5 stars Life changing.
After having suffered with depression for half of my life, I was beginning to thing nothing would ever help me. Read more
Published 14 months ago by chloe_b
5.0 out of 5 stars THE book
Suffer from clinical depression and want more insights into your illness? - know someone who suffers and are fumbling for ways to help? Read more
Published on 7 Feb 2012 by Alan Jordan
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, rational, enlightening insight into depression and...
This is a straightforward, rational and clear exploration of the different causes and treatments of depression. Read more
Published on 8 Jan 2010 by pppme
5.0 out of 5 stars Wolpert
Beautifully and clearly written. A most helpful book, full of insight as well as knowledge, and helpful for anyone suffering from severe depression, or their friends and relatives
Published on 28 Nov 2009 by Mrs. Vivian Hatfield
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