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A Brief History of Anxiety...Yours and Mine Hardcover – March 4, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist and nonfiction writer Pearson (When She Was Bad) was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at 23 in 1987; she had suffered a nervous breakdown after discovering that her lover was sleeping with another woman. In a rambling fashion, she traces the roots of her anxiety to a youth spent in tumultuous New Delhi, where her diplomat father was posted when an Indian-Pakistani war broke out over Bangladesh. Genetically, she traces her anxiety to a grandmother whose famous biting wit was likely, she surmises, a manifestation of anxiety and depression. Pearson quotes a range of sources, including the 2002 World Mental Health Survey and angst-ridden Kierkegaard, Keats and Whitman. Pearson's anxieties constantly shift according to the stresses in her life, and an adverse reaction to antidepressants once caused her to make sexual advances to her daughter's friend's mother. Citizens of affluent U.S. and Canada are more prone to dread and panic than Mexicans, says Pearson, who herself grew up in a privileged Canadian family with a grandfather who was prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Although often self-indulgent and overwritten, Pearson's quirky memoir should strike a chord with some of the 40 million American adults suffering from clinical anxiety. (Mar. 4)
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“In this captivating book, Pearson weaves in vivid descriptions of her own emotional upheavals with insights and explanations from philosophers and psychologists, historic and contemporary. The combination makes the book stimulating, accessible, and relevant. Pearson has given us an insightful and entertaining book.”—Body & Soul

“Highly amusing…[Pearson] examine[s] modern civilization and its discontents, as well as her own miseries, which she does, thoughtfully and incisively. Major points for wit and flair.” —New York Times

“Exhilarating. Finely crafted. Pearson makes plenty of intriguing and arguable observations. If you're anxious all the time and you think about that anxiety a lot, this collection will provide you some companionable relief.”—Slate

“Pearson is a daredevil on the page; her prose somersaults and vaults, does splits and juggles, keeping the reader entertained by her wit and amazed by her dexterity as an investigative journalist.”—Newsday

“[Pearson] offers readers a learned hand through the fraught world of anxiety politics...this book offers the anxious reader a recipe, one that is sure to quiet.”—Newsday

"Pearson’s quirky memoir should strike a chord with some of the 40 million American adults suffering from clinical anxiety."—Publishers Weekly

"Insightfully probes one of the oldest and least-understood psychological conditions...[a] well-constructed book...lively. [Pearson] employs a pleasing blend of personal anecdote and historical context. Despite her often playful tone and poetic, evocative language, Pearson provides countless intriguing historical examples, backed by an extensive notes section, including discussions of ancient philosophy, medicine and theology. A wholly satisfying mix of memoir, cultural history and investigative journalism." —Kirkus Reviews

"In this meditation on anxiety, shot through with bright insights and shafts of illumination, Patricia Pearson has subtly interwoven her personal story with the history of anxiety in a manner that left me revisiting both the book and my memories of it long after I had finished. "A Brief History" deftly conveys a sense of where we have come to, offers succor to anyone afflicted with nerves, and may yet take a place beside some of the cultural landmarks in the field."—David Healy, author of Let Them Eat Prozac

"If only more psychology were written with the literate intelligence of this book. It is a weaving of stories that accomplishes a great deal: cultural analysis, psychological insight, and personal reflection. You will enjoy it and learn from it. If you are ever afraid of the dark, crowds of people, heights, and the insanity of your fellow humans, as I am, you may find comfort here."—Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and A Life's Work

“What makes A Brief History of Anxiety sing is the wryly funny, winning voice of its author. Pearson has a gift for weaving personal experience into cultural analysis, resulting in something both entertaining and true. She's created a book that will offer comfort, insight and wisdom about a condition that touches nearly all of us in some way.”—Peggy Orenstein, author of Waiting for Daisy and Schoolgirls


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596912987
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596912984
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #812,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Chapin on March 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I don't actually know Patricia Pearson but have interviewed her twice. I totally loved When She Was Bad and was thus excited to read A Brief History of Anxiety. Overall, I enjoyed the book. Pearson is a creative, lively, and skilled writer who possesses keen wit and intelligence. For such a short book there certainly is a great deal of information available here on the topic of anxiety. It is not the first book I've read on the subject but it offered several insights of which I was not previously aware--such as the differences between American and Chinese socialization which result in lower levels of anxiety in eastern mothers and their offspring. The only reason I could not give the book 5 stars is that I felt that too much of it concerned the author. I did ask her about this and she stated essentially that this is to be expected as it is a memoir. Well, that's true if it's a memoir but I did not know this before cracking the spine. Its title, A Brief History of Anxiety [Yours and Mine], caused me to regard it as being more of a dispassionate study of the psychological condition. Perhaps that was a misassumption on my part alone as its autobiographical nature will be intuited by other readers. If it isn't at least I have illuminated its personal focus here. Regardless, spending time with Pearson's pen is always a good use of time.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Powell on October 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The first part of this book grabs some people (see other reviews on this site) but while I found the material engaging enough, I can't say it exactly grabbed me. But the writing was sparky and clever enough that I persevered.

On page 12 she is already wrestling with Kierkegaard's paradox of both wanting freedom from anxiety and at the same time being strangely attracted to the self-creating energy of the anxiety itself. Her blunt suggestion is that anxiety comes from the illusion that we can control what happens to us, and once we let go of that illusion we can start to see that it is flexibility rooted in principles that we need, or in simpler words, we just need to grow up.

She discusses childhood trauma and "anxiety sensitivity" -- that state of fearing the panic attack itself, as much as the original source of fear.

She discusses various therapists and theorists who over time have prescribed what seem to me to be forms of cognitive therapy. Some of this seem pretty insightful.I liked Kurt Goldstein's idea that anxiety is cued off by a threat to some value we hold and think is central to our existence. I liked the idea of Rollo May and Paul Tillich discussing the dread of non-being -- or more specifically the "unease about possessing neither purpose nor impact." "Holy crap I'm a nobody!" That certainly stresses me out the first time I realized it. I was so impressed by this idea that I went out and bought May's book on anxiety.

She discusses the different attitudes toward anxiety in Mexico and China and rightly points out that anxiety tends to be a north western phenomena. Anxiety, it seems, is a luxury of the upper class urban dweller.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Clarisse McClellan on May 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
While this book was an interesting and well-written account of the author's own anxiety, I didn't feel that the book really lived up to its title. There were a few sections about anxiety from a historical perspective, but the majority of the book focused on her own life.

The book took a bit of a twist towards the end, when we basically learn that anti-anxiety meds are evil and difficult to get off of. This part is especially weak as no research or stats are presented (unless you consider googling a medication research). I am fine with her having her own opinion about meds, however, it was a one-sided diatribe and didn't offer much perspective.

Not a bad book, but go into it realizing that this isn't really a book about the history of anxiety. It's one person's story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By bronx book nerd VINE VOICE on August 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
As someone who is intimately familiar with anxiety, I found this book to be a helpful balm for understanding the condition. It's helpful to see the malady expressed from someone who suffers from it, particularly in its gory detail - not the same as reading a therapist's description of a patient's symptoms. Although the theories on why so many suffer from anxiety and exactly what to do about it is somewhat murky, I think Pearson covers enough ground to give the anxious person a foothold and a starting point toward living with and coping with the condition, and she does so by giving an overview of anxiety from a historical perspective, interjecting insights from literature as well as psychologists and other practitioners, describing the symptoms and offering various actual examples of anxiety driven behavior. This book offers hope, but not the type offered by a cure-all medication, but rather the type that comes from understanding via reflection and introspection.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Tison on October 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Pearson is an author who writes how she thinks. That is, her sentence structure and narrative techniques can get a little confusing because she's literally writing in the way that her anxiety-filled mind operates. Her writing style has almost more to say about her anxiety than her words. Because of that you'll either appreciate or resent the book.

Ultimately I think what she has to say about WHY Americans are so anxious is very insightful. And her sense of humor is present throughout. The middle gets a little muddled (that's where the book actually does become a history of anxiety as opposed to quirky stories and self-reflections), but it picks back up. I enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it to anyone who gets lost in their anxiety from time to time.
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