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Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness Paperback – May 18, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1452820422
  • ISBN-13: 978-1452820422
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,116,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Neuropsychologist Valenstein (Brain Control, etc.) here offers a critical and academic history of psychosurgery that he deems a "cautionary tale." The same factors that contributed to the rapid, injudicious acceptance of the lobotomy operationdesperate patients and their families, overcrowded mental institutions, sensationalism by the popular media, physicians' self-aggrandizementtoday still play a major role in prematurely promoting "miracle" medical techniques, warns the author. Beginning with a chronicle of early psychomedical experimental cures, Valenstein examines the development of shock therapy and the careers of the first psychosurgeon, Egas Moniz, and his successor, Walter Freeman, now infamous for his 10-minute "ice-pick operation." This rather chilling account will foster a profound, and not unhealthy, distrust of science, the medical profession and the media; one hopes its academic nature will not deter the general reader from attempting it.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This is a lively, fascinating, and yet scholarly account of the history of the use of psychosurgery in treating men tal disorders. Focused in particular on the extraordinary Walter Freeman, with whom psychosurgery is most as sociated, the book explores the rise in use of lobotomies and similar proce dures through the 1950s and the de cline ever since (apart from a brief flurry in the 1970s). Valenstein, a re search psychologist and the author of Brain Control (1973), writes in a lucid, even-handed way even while conclud ing with a strong plea for restraint in the use of untested medical interven tions. The book makes compelling reading for both laypeople and schol ars. However, its narrow focus on psychosurgery makes it interesting mainly as history. Paul Hymowitz, Psychiatry Dept., Cornell Univ. Medi cal Ctr., New York
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Platek on September 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an incredible story. Thousands of people had their brains mutilated and personalities destroyed in a grand experiment to cure schizophrenia and other mental disorders. What's so incredible is that scientists and physicians, principally Walter Freeman in the book, advocated this procedure based on theories of the brain and mental disorders without much evidence to support their claims. In fact, the theories are almost an afterthought to justifiy the procedure. I'm absolutely amazed at the breathtaking irresponsibility of the medical and psychiatric communities allowed this to go on. Valenstein starts the book by tracing the history of physical "cures" from water treatment to electroshock therapy. What Valenstein proves is that lobotomy is really just another attempt by the psychiatric communitiy to apply specualtive theory and boldly experiment on human beings. This was possible because serious mental disorders, like schizophrenia, seemed hopeless. The medical community and public was willing to try anything. In this context, Valenstein explains the driving forces that helped lobotomy to gain wide popularity: the medical profession's willingness to try anything and uncritical acceptance of advocates' claims of success - even giving the inventor of the procedure a Nobel Prize; the media's fascination with strange medical procedures and the almost universal blind acceptance of doctor's claims; and finally, the public institutions' desire to save money - lobotomized patients were released from institutions or were easier to handle. As a layman, I assume scientists are objective and critical thinkers and, doctors are humane heroes - "to do no harm". This book demolishes those illusions and keeps your skeptical mind razor sharp.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on August 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The history of psychosurgery is intriguing to anyone interested in the brain, and it begs two questions (1) How did it happen that surgeons once found it fashionable and helpful to cut the frontal lobes, and (2) What do we know now about those ailments that were once treated by psychosurgery? Valenstein's book provides a comprehensive historical review that answers the first question, and provides important cues to answer the second, including some of the current views on brain and mood disorders. Valenstein's personal biases against some of these theories do not show through, and he maintains an even perspective. The sciences is treated seriously but remains accessible. Background information on the various figures involved in psychosurgery are also provided when needed, but never turn into annoying biopics. I really enjoyed reading it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Mason on February 2, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very well-written book that gives a balanced account of the history of "somatic treatments" for mental illness. The author places leucotomies/lobotomies into the context of the somatic vs psychoanalytic debate and describes several of the initial somatic treatments such as insulin shock, malarial infection and so on. The author also highlights the laudable motivation on the part of Moniz, Freeman and others to do SOMETHING for people who were otherwise left untreated and miserable - essentially looked upon as society's throwaways. In this way, Valenstein gives a fair account of the initial motivations. At the same time, Valenstein exposes the Emperor's new clothes as he picks apart any semblance of a logical or biological rationale for the destruction of frontal lobe tissue. Moreover, the precipitous slope of sloppiness that Freeman traversed in terms of patient selection, informed consent, and rigorous testing is narrated in excruciating detail. The reader cringes as Freeman's preference for Christmas card and casual social encounters with his former patients over neuropsychological testing is painstakingly described.
This book is a very important contribution to thinking about ethics around neurosurgery. Valenstein also extends his approach to non-neurosurgical procedures such as cardiac bypass operations in a highly thought-provoking manner. In the end, I would love to see two updates. First, how would Valenstein define psychosurgery? Is DBS or pallidotomy for a movement disorder a type of psychosurgery? How about a cingulotomy for depression or pain? I think that one could make the argument that all of the above are psychosurgeries, not because of their intended results but because they all have effects, whether subtle or pronounced, on cognition. Second, I would love to see an update of how common different types of psychosurgeries are today, both in the US and elsewhere around the globe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 12, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Elliot S. Valenstein is a professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan; he also wrote Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health, Behind the Iron Curtain: Psychology, neuroscience, and politics in the Soviet Union, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1986 book, "This history of lobotomy began... with an earlier book of mine, Brain Control, which was published in 1973, a time when concern over what was perceived to be the beginning of a 'new wave' of lobotomy had led to a raging controversy... I was thus soon drawn into the 'psychosurgery controversy'... as a result of this activity... [I was asked] to survey the extent of psychosurgery being performed around the world, to determine the results of these operations, and to comment on related ethical and social problems... I edited Psychosurgery Debate... It had become evident that lobotomy was not an aberrant event but very much in the mainstream of psychiatry... I began to see the history of lobotomy as casting light on current practice..." (Pg. xi-xii)

He observes, "Psychosurgery was not a medical aberration, spawned in ignorance...
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