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on 8 October 1999
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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on 14 February 2001
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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on 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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on 24 July 1999
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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on 20 August 2008
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.

I'm surprised this book has been so well received, to me it seemly disappointingly one-dimensional. At no point does the author attempt to portray in his own words his experience, at no point does he offer any ground to those who might find a narrative engagement with the self important. He seems to be of the opinion that the more statistics he throws into the pot the more appealing his argument; I might have swapped a couple of chapters for one sentence I felt I could believe in. Be sure to read around, this is far from the complete and sympathetic picture the subject deserves.
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on 4 December 2000
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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on 17 October 2008
The author has produced a wonderfull, intelligent and non-patronising book about depression. I have read all the self-help books on depression and I believe that this is the best one available. The rest talk about CBT therapy but this one actually tries to explain other biological possibilities as well as using CBT. This was the only book to give me hope. If you find it difficult to explain to family and friends how you are feeling then there is a wonderfull passage in this book that describes it. As a scientist, the author has written some other books which are equally as well written. I recommend this book to everyone who has depression.
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This book is a comprehensive introduction to the topic of depression. It explains the different types, as well as things like genetic links. It is a clear, concise read and a good place to start if you have a family member who suffers, or are just interested about the illness.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 18 December 2013
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 overview of the latest research. Wolpert delivers all of this. His attempts to explain how it feels to be at the bottom of a depressive pit were horribly familiar, and his objective account of SSRI medication made more sense than anything else I have read on or off the web. Not quite 5 stars though, as Wolpert's writing style is a little clunky and heavy-handed. Had I not been acquainted with this style of writing frmo far too many years of research papers, I might have found the book difficult to finish. That said, if you suffer from this tedious and erosive illness, or know someone who does, persist with 'Malignant Sadness', as it contains more good sense than anything else you will read, including this review.
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on 8 January 2010
This is a straightforward, rational and clear exploration of the different causes and treatments of depression. Wolpert concentrates on clinical depression, but also considers bipolar disorder (which used to be called 'manic depression'). The chapter titles explain themselves: The Experience of Depression - Past and Present/ Defining and Diagonising Depression/ Mania/ Other Cultures/ Who Gets Depressed and Why?/ Suicide/ Emotion, Evolution and Malignant Sadness/ Psychological Explanations/ Biological Explanations and the Brain/ Antidepressants and Physical Treatments/ Psychotherapy/ What Works?/ An Excursion to the East/ The Future.

Wolpert's prose is clear and simple, although his subject is necessarily complex and sometimes requires re-reading (especially when he talks about biological functions). I found this to be an extremely helpful book, not only in understanding my own recurring depression, but also in thinking about mental illness as a whole.

Wolpert is a scientist who suffered a depressive episode late in life. Shocked and surprised by its effects and severity, he decided to explore this disease. His scientific background shines through in the even handed approach of this book, and the rigour and fairness with which he approaches evidence. His thesis is that depression is a sadness that has exceeded usefulness - in other words, that it's an extension of natural processes, much like cancer is malignant growth. As a result, he explores what sadness is, and how mental processes work.

Personally, I found this book to be a calm rock of sanity to hold onto during the darker moments of depression, and a fascinating intellectual journey to read and contemplate in the times when depression seems far, far away. I would recommend this whole-heartedly to anyone who knows depression, or knows someone else who lives with it. It has also been a very useful tool for talking things through with my partner.
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