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The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry 1st Edition

68 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0399158537
ISBN-10: 0399158537
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Greenberg delivers a detailed and critical account of the history of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the go-to resource for psychiatrists and other professionals in the mental health field. In particular, the author identifies the various problems, shortcomings, and questionable motivations (such as the overwhelming influence of the pharmaceutical industry) that have plagued the DSM up through its most recent edition. Throughout the book, Greenberg draws upon interviews and research within the field of psychiatry and beyond to make a comprehensive case that will have many raising an eyebrow at psychiatric diagnoses. Narrator David Drummond's deep—almost foreboding—voice matches up well with Greenberg's prose. And Drummond's tone, timing, and emphasis help clarify points for listeners and keep them engaged during the more information-heavy sections of text. A Blue Rider hardcover. (May) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


“[I]ndustrious and perfervid... Mr. Greenberg [argues] that the [DSM] and its authors, the American Psychiatric Association, wield their power arbitrarily and often unwisely, encouraging the diagnosis of too many bogus mental illnesses in patients (binge eating disorder, for example) and too much medication to treat them....Mr. Greenberg argues that psychiatry needs to become more humble, not more certain and aggressive....Greenberg is a fresher, funnier writer. He paces the psychiatric stage as if he were part George Carlin, part Gregory House.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Greenberg’s documentation of the DSM-5 revision process is an essential read for practicing and in-training psychotherapists and psychiatrists and is an important contribution to the history of psychiatry.”
Library Journal

“The rewriting of the bible of psychiatry shakes the field to its foundations in this savvy, searching exposé.  Deploying wised-up, droll reportage from the trenches of psychiatric policy-making and caustic profiles of the discipline’s luminaries, Greenberg subjects the practices of the mental health industry—his own included—to a withering critique. The result is a compelling insider’s challenge to psychiatry’s scientific pretensions—and a plea to return it to its humanistic roots.”—Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“Greenberg is an entertaining guide through the treacheries and valuable instances of the DSM, interviewing members on both sides of the divide and keeping the proceedings conversational even when discussing the manual’s pretensions toward epistemic iteration. He also brings his own practice into [The Book of Woe], with examples of the DSM falling woefully short in capturing the complexity of personality. Bright, humorous and seriously thoroughgoing, Greenberg takes all the DSMs for a spin as revealing as the emperor’s new clothes.”Kirkus Reviews

“[A] brilliant look at the making of DSM-5...entertaining, biting and essential...Greenberg builds a splendid and horrifying read....[he] shows us vividly that psychiatry’s biggest problem may be a stubborn reluctance to admit its immaturity.”
—David Dobbs,

“Gary Greenberg is a thoughtful comedian and a cranky philosopher and a humble pest of a reporter, equal parts Woody Allen, Kierkegaard, and Columbo. The Book of Woe is a profound, and profoundly entertaining, riff on malady, power, and truth. This book is for those of us (i.e., all of us) who've ever wondered what it means, and what's at stake, when we try to distinguish the suffering of the ill from the suffering of the human.”
—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction

“This could be titled The Book of ... Whoa! An eye-popping look at the unnerving, often tawdry politics of psychiatry.”
—Gene Weingarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Fiddler in the Subway

“Bringing the full force of his wit, warmth, and tenacity to this accessible inside account of the latest revision of psychiatry’s diagnostic bible, Gary Greenberg has written a book to rival the importance of its subject. Keenly researched and vividly reported, The Book of Woe is frank, impassioned, on fire for the truth—and best of all, vigorously, beautifully alive to its story’s human stakes.”
—Michelle Orange, author of This Is Running for Your Life
“Gary Greenberg has become the Dante of our psychiatric age, and the DSM-5 is his Inferno. He guides us through the not-so-divine comedy that results when psychiatrists attempt to reduce our hopelessly complex inner worlds to an arbitrary taxonomy that provides a disorder for everybody. Greenberg leads us into depths that Dante never dreamed of. The Book of Woe is a mad chronicle of so-called madness.”
—Errol Morris, Academy Award–winning director, and author of A Wilderness of Error
“In this gripping, devastating account of psychiatric hubris, Gary Greenberg shows that the process of revising the DSM remains as haphazard and chaotic as ever. His meticulous research into the many failures of DSM-5 will spark concern, even alarm, but in doing so will rule out complacency. The Book of Woe deserves a very wide readership.”
—Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness

“Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe is about the DSM in the way that Moby-Dick is about a whale—big-time, but only in part. An engaging history of a profession’s virtual bible, The Book of Woe is also a probing consideration of those psychic depths we cannot know and those social realities we pretend not to know, memorably rendered by a seasoned journalist who parses the complexities with a pickpocket’s eye and a mensch’s heart.  If I wanted a therapist, and especially if I wanted to clear my mind of cant, I’d make an appointment with Dr. Greenberg as soon as he could fit me in.”
—Garret Keizer, author of Privacy and The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want
The Book of Woe is a brilliant, ballsy excursion into the minefield of modern psychiatry. Greenberg has wit, energy, and a wonderfully skeptical mind. If you want to understand how we think of mental suffering today—and why, and to what effect—read this book.”
—Daniel Smith, author of Monkey Mind

“[Greenberg’s] fascinating history of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM)[s] just how muddled the boundaries of mental health truly are.”
—Chloë Schama, Smithsonian

“Greenberg argues persuasively that the current DSM encourages psychiatrists to reach beyond their competence....I’m impressed by Greenberg’s reporting, his subtlety of thought, his dedication to honesty, and his literacy....a very good book.”
—Benjamin Nugent,

“The process of assembling [DSM-5] has been anything but smooth, as The Book of Woe relates....Greenberg argues—persuasively—that this fifth edition of the DSM arises not out of any new scientific understanding but from one of the periodic crises of psychiatry....invaluable.”
—Laura Miller,

“In The Book of Woe, Greenberg takes the lay reader through a history of the DSM, which is really a history of psychiatry....[a] fascinating and well-researched account.”
—Suzanne Koven, The Boston Globe

“[E]ngaging, radical and generally delectable...Greenberg is a practicing psychotherapist who writes with the insight of a professional and the panache of a literary journalist....[a] brilliant take-down of the psychiatric profession...The Book of Woe offers a lucid and useful history.”
—Julia M. Klein, The Chicago Tribune

“This is a landmark book about a landmark book....Greenberg paints a picture so compelling and bleak that it could easily send the vulnerable reader into therapy....takes the reader deep inside the secretive world of the panels and personalities that have spent years arguing about which disorders and symptoms they would keep and which they would discard in the new DSM.
—Robert Epstein, Scientific American


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Blue Rider Press; 1 edition (May 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399158537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399158537
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Fair on June 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For anyone (therapists and laypersons alike) who has ever read parts of the DSM (any version) and come away suspecting that they themselves could readily receive a large number of the diagnoses described, depending upon the day, Gary Greenberg has addressed these concerns eloquently. As a therapist working in the field for more than 17 years, I have felt my anger rise steadily at the reductionist hubris presented as fact by proponents of the medical model of human distress. Greenberg's expose links the history of psychiatry, with its relentless pursuit of theoretical and financial legitimacy through medicalization, to the reductionism inherent in this paradigm. Although the topic of Big Pharma's contributions to the medicalization of psychiatry is mentioned in the book, it is not Greensberg's focus and should be expanded upon, given the market-driven nature of nearly all aspects of our current culture. At times, the seemingly endless debates among those involved in the DSM5 project was heavy reading, and I was tempted to skim several chapters in the book. But for the most part, it reads like a spy novel - complete with secrets, conspiracy theories, and betrayals- leaving the reader wondering just whose side people are on, or indeed, what exactly those sides represent, particularly for people seeking help for what is termed, "mental illness." Overall, Greenberg is successful in his efforts to invite the reader to share his critical look at psychiatry and its attempts to reduce human suffering to quantifiable and reimbursable categories. He reminds us that, so far, the human mind remains a mystery,and more than the sum of its biological parts.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Gary Greenberg gets it right and dishes it out on a sumptuous platter of history with a whole lotta gentle direct humor woven through his very exposing/disclosing book. In a down to earth readable style (not psychedelic, psychiatric, psycho, academic bureaucratic mumble jumble jargon) he's drawn the curtain back and exposed the Wizard of Id? Or maybe the Wizard of Ego? The Wizard of War? The DSM-5; a book written by committee; members who sit around a table every so many years and make up stuff, a book that has no scientific basis.

We had to study the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) when I was in graduate school (and who didn't like looking up what was wrong with their family members and self-diagnosing themselves?). It's merely a checklist of symptoms, not causation, not a mental health diagnosis, not a scientific diagnosis, not a medical diagnosis. "Check, check, check, check." "OK now this is who you are." Then a few years down the line: "Check, check, oh?" "OK now you're not that anymore".

And it's very political. "Combat fatigue" was taken out at the height of the Vietnam War. It was veterans who studied then lobbied to get "post traumatic stress" in not only for themselves but also for children who were horribly abused. That is a label that at least speaks to causation. Then homosexuals lobbied to get "homosexuality" out, now "transgendered" want to be kept in.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Nan on June 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Greenberg does a superb job of explaining the nature and origin of diagnosis and the DSMs. I am a psychologist and am well trained in making diagnoses. Many of my clients believe that the diagnosis(es) they have been given define them in some way. They think they are "chemically imbalanced" or possessed of "broken" or "mis-wired" brains. Further, they often come to believe that their diagnoses (depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.) mean they will be permanently compromised or disabled. This is no surprise as many have been told that these diagnoses refer to physical illness, that their symptoms are produced by illness that is located in the brain/body. At this time, there simply isn't evidence to support such a theory. The theory may be true, but it behooves scientists to provide solid empirical support in order to make such a claim. As yet, they have not.

Without question, the experiences that DSM diagnoses attempt to categorize are real -- humans suffer tremendously and that suffering requires attention and treatment. But the labels that the DSM slaps on those experiences transforms them from human pain and suffering into disease (and, thus, big money-makers for folks in several industries). Greenberg reminds us that psychiatry does not speak the gospel truth. Not even the scientific truth, in this case. As a therapist, I am always glad to be reminded of this.
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful By John Carl on May 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is an important message in this book. Psychiatry could use some more humility in terms of diagnosis, claims of underlying mechanism and ultimately its use of authority to set the threshold for what is normal and what should be treated in a clinical setting. Its not that psychiatry forgot about these things entirely, but that it should dedicate to make these things a higher priority. That's the truth as I see it and this book does offer some interesting examples and discourse on the topic. There is much to think about as we move forward in clinical practice and research.

I really wish this message had been brought out without the occasional diatribes, and in a more positive manner. As it stands, the truth that is in the book is very easy to dismiss as simply anti-psychiatry or at least so close to anti-psychiatry that it just cannot be taken seriously. I wish the author had a bit more restraint in that way the message was crafted, to truly be a home run, but it appears to lose the required nuance as the book went on. It could have been 100 pages shorter and had more of an impact with right tone and some editing.

What I will say about the narrative is that I did enjoy it for the most part. Dr. Greenberg has humor and sarcasm in many places that do work well. His overall style was nice and light. I do doubt that anyone not in the know would find the personal drama aspect very compelling. I think if you're in the field you can imagine very well how these things happened, and may get a voyeuristic thrill out of some parts, but its not a good story from the human interactions point of view.

So I give it a middle of the road 3 stars since the truth and a lot of the writing are balanced by the poor way the truth was presented, almost begging to be dismissed entirely, and by the lack of narrative tension that seems should surround a controversy.
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