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Against Depression Paperback – July 25, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. What is depression really, and how does society define it? Kramer, a famed psychiatrist and author of the 1993 bestseller Listening to Prozac, says he has written "an insistent argument that depression is a disease, one we would do well to oppose wholeheartedly." In making his argument, Kramer examines the cultural roots of notions about depression and underscores the gap between what we know scientifically and what we feel about the illness. Kramer traces depression from Hippocrates through the Renaissance and Romantic "cult of melancholy" to advances in medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy, and at last to the disease we now know it to be. Kramer's curiosity drives the book forward as he ponders why we value artwork and literature built on despair: "certain of our aesthetic and intellectual preferences have been set by those who suffer... deeply." The book maintains the perfect balance between science and human interest, as the author details both psychiatric studies and personal experience. A comparison of the biochemical workings of depression with the physical and observable symptoms serves as an intellectual trip for readers and provides a thorough exploration of what Kramer dubs "the most devastating disease known to humankind." The book is rich with questions that engage the reader in an active dialogue: Why is society captive to depression's charm? And will this infatuation change with the emergence of more evidence regarding depression's severely disabling effects? Kramer leaves off with these questions to ponder. Resolute but not preachy, this book is an important addition to the growing public health campaign against depression. As for how we should define depression—perhaps it's best understood by its opposite: "A resilient mind, sustained by a resilient brain and body." One Spirit and Discover Book Club selections. (May 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036968
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #789,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Dr. Peter Kramer was a general practice psychiatrist and philosopher who became intrigued and troubled by ethical issues proceeding from the introduction of SSRI medications in the 1980's. He cared enough about these concerns to pen "Listening to Prozac" in 1993, a best seller that, by his own exasperated admission, turned his own life upside down in terms of public perception. He was now "America's depression doctor," a position he neither sought nor relished. But, having been pushed up the steps of the bully pulpit, he decided to tackle his nemesis head-on, and the end product is our work at hand.

With his heightened sensitivity to depression, a new wave of depressed clients pounding his door, and countless speaking engagements and seminars, Kramer became aware that the medical condition of depression carried an aura of mystique and superiority that would never be tolerated in other disorders such as diabetes or cancer. Yes, individuals with painful diseases can grow in character through surgeries, chemotherapies, or deprivations. But no one actively cultivates the condition of cancer as an enhancement of the human situation.

Perhaps an irreverent title for this work might have been "A Tale of Two Prozacs," for the author divides his work into the misconceptions and canonizations of depressed mood, on the one hand, and the hard reality of this disease on the other. There is, he contends, a prevailing belief that mental health disorder and/or substance abuse unleashes creative energy and expands the life experience. As a psychotherapist myself, I do not need to revert to stories of Hemingway or Van Gogh. Nearly every teenager on psychotropic medication raises the question of whether "I'll still be myself.
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Format: Hardcover
Have some respect for the authors and the people reading what you write, and please review a book on its own terms. The fact that you were mistaken about what sort of book it was when you bought it, or that you would have preferred if the author had written a different book with a different purpose and focus, are not valid criticisms. If it really makes you so angry to spend money and time on a book that isn't what you expect it to be, then perhaps you should spend more time and effort when choosing your reading material.

This is not a self-help book. It doesn't address itself to depressed people in particular. It doesn't advise on treatment alternatives. It is not an alternative to Richard O'Connor's books. What it is is a plea for depression to be treated as the serious, progressive, frequently fatal illness that it is, and treated aggressively. In particular, Kramer discusses and refutes the ideas that depression is romantic, that it makes its sufferers better or deeper people, or that eradicating it would deprive humanity of works of art. This discussion ranges through science, literature, philosophy and biography. Although I have suffered from depression all my life, I don't think you need to have a personal connection with the subject to find it interesting and enlightening, or to be persuaded by its arguments.
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Format: Paperback
Kramer wrote this book after being deluged by stories of depression, depression research, and patients after he wrote Listening to Prozac.

While touring for his previous books, he would often be asked a question, "what if Van Gogh had taken prozac?" The real question he's being asked is whether depression should be cured, or whether curing depression would take away something that is an essential part of being human.

The book is really making the argument "against depression" - there is nothing romantic or especially meaningful about it.

He writes, convicingly, that depression is a disease that has specific physical indications. The physical causes of this disease are close to being understood.

He writes that other diseases - such as tuberculosis (then called consumption) - used to have romantic implications. They are now considered just ordinary diseases that need to be cured.

While making this point, he touches on treatments for depression - some of them incredibly clever - that may be coming out over the next 5 to 20 years.

If you have suffered from depression and are not sure how you think about it - along the lines of the book: "should I be cured, or if I get treatment will I lose 'part of myself'?" then I'd highly recommend this book. Also recommended if the underlying question is interesting to you - maybe you know someone who suffers from depression, or are just curious about the human condition.
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Format: Hardcover
This is, hands down, the best book I have ever read about the multifocal and devastating effects of depression. It is extremely well researched, thoughtful, and is exactly the book that is needed to dispel the erroneous notions that persist regarding depression. There is nothing at all charming or intriguing about depression.
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Format: Hardcover
Against Depression may be the most significant book I've read on the topic of depression, combining new scientific research with cultural and social criticism. The book chronicles new developments in the science of the brain, highlighting the lack of resilience in certain parts of the brain in the depressed.

Using this physical description of depression, Kramer argues persuasively that depression should be considering a disease in the same literal sense as other physical illnesses such as cancer.

Assuming that depression is, in fact, a disease, Kramer wonders why the culture still romanticizes depression in a way that it doesn't for other diseases. In particular he addresses the supposed role of depression in art. He argues that difference, not depression in particular is valuable to writing and art. He believes that certain aspects of both the artistic and the depressive temperament, such as feelings of alienation from society, can still be valuable to art, as long as the feeling of alienation is not simply a product of a depressive illness. Kramer's longstanding interest in literature and the arts was particularly engrossing to this reader.

He argues that depression is one of the most pressing health concerns confronting the world, with major depression being more debilitating than many other, more obviously "physical" illnesses, and often striking much earlier in life. Particularly noteworthy is that Major Depression is a progressive illness in the same sense as cancer; if not treated properly early on, recurrences tend to be more frequent and more severe. Non-treatment can eventually lead to permanent debilitation.

Kramer covers all of this ground in a sparkling prose style that raises Against Depression above other purely academic tracts on the topic. The book includes a wealth of information while being extremely readable and engaging at the same time.
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