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Against Depression

by Peter D. Kramer

ISBN 0670034053 / 9780670034055 / 0-670-03405-3
Publisher Viking Adult
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

Written as an answer to the question, "What if van Gogh had been on anti-depressants," Against Depression manages to be more of an exploration than a polemic, regardless of its title. While author Peter Kramer (Listening to Prozac) expresses a definite opinion--that disease of any sort should be treated as effectively as possible--he manages to express sympathy along with frustration about the recurring idea that soulful creativity often goes hand-in-hand with depression. Without ever being dismissive or particularly angry, his writing makes his point abundantly clear after the first chapter: The pervasive idea of depression serving a creative purpose is preposterous, as well as highly damaging.

While he draws from a number of recent studies on depression, the book is not meant to assist in the diagnosis or treatment of individuals, except in a very general sense. Instead, Kramer adds the findings of those studies into his thoughts on how patients modify medication doses for depression as they wouldn't for purely physical diseases, and looks into future possibilities of genetically modified stress hormone transmitters that could work to prevent a slide into chronic depression. In the arts, he examines the work of philosophers, painters and writers in relation to the reputation their personal lives have earned (critics and consumers alike believe that pain equals genius and lack of pain equals lack of depth). Adding Dineson, Bellow, Updike and Kierkegaard to the list headed by van Gogh, Kramer shows a variety of ways we live with the assumption that creative genius does not function without severe emotional strain.

While he does include a few stories from a patient to illustrate specific treatments, most of the book is slow and thoughtful, without ever being dry or pedantic. Useful to families or individuals who have encountered depression, this book offers excellent support for anyone--creative genius or otherwise--who struggle to define their talents as existing separately from their illness. Jill Lightner [via]