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Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores Antidepressant Drugs and the Remaking of the Self Hardcover – June 8, 1993

4.1 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Psychiatrist Peter Kramer's book Listening to Prozac created a sensation when it was released in 1993, and it remains the most fascinating look at the new generation of antidepressants. Kramer found that the changes in brain chemistry brought about by Prozac had a wide variety of effects, often giving users greater feelings of self-worth and confidence, less sensitivity to social rejection, and even a greater willingness to take risks. He cites cases of mildly depressed patients who took the drug and not only felt better but underwent remarkable personality transformations--which he (along with many of the book's readers) found disconcerting, leading him to question whether the medicated or unmedicated version was the person's "real" self. Kramer has been criticized for seeming to advocate Prozac over psychotherapy or as a way of achieving personality changes not directly related to the disease of depression, such as improving one's social confidence or job performance. In fact, he makes no such recommendations; he was simply the first popular writer to suggest that these changes might occur. (He answers those critics in the afterword to this 1997 edition.) For anyone considering taking antidepressants or wanting a better understanding of the effects these drugs are having on our society, Listening to Prozac is a very important book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Kramer, a practicing psychiatrist, finds that the antidepressant Prozac is a powerful drug that lifts the veil of depression from most patients without significant side effects. While he unquestionably supports the use of medication to alleviate illness, he questions using drugs to make a person feel "better than well." It is the remarkable ability of Prozac to create personality changes that he finds disturbing. Is it ethical to prescribe a drug that increases a person's self-confidence, resilience, and energy level without any ill effect, when there is no underlying manifestation of illness? What is the essence of personhood and what are the philosophical implications of using drugs to alter personality? Both Kramer's unequivocal endorsement of Prozac for the treatment of depression and the questions he raises about the use of drugs for mood alteration are controversial. A glossary would have been a useful addition for lay readers. Recommended.
- Carol R. Glatt, VA Medical Ctr. Lib., Philadelphia
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (June 8, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670841838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670841837
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I had a desire to go back and reread this work on the tenth anniversary of its publication. I was curious to see how Dr. Peter Kramer's magnificent essay of the mysteries of mood and matter had stood the test of time. I was also interested to see how far the psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex had come in the past decade in dealing with the scourge of depression and other mental disorders.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, exactly what was it about this book that made it such a provocative success in 1993? Two factors come to mind almost immediately. The first is the remarkable story-telling and philosophical style of the author. Yes, the crux of this work was the ethical dilemma of physicians who for the first time possessed the legal and medicinal power to alter personality cosmetically. But we forget over the years that this book was much more than a pharmaceutical morality play. It was a fascinating look at the pioneers of the biotechnology era, a glimpse into the hit and miss processes whereby paradigms and hypotheses were transformed into molecular formulas. The author made lucid for the general public just how mysterious the matrix between the material and the metaphysical truly is. That the new psychotropic drugs could morph a wallflower into a grand dame was becoming evident, so to speak, but the reasons for the change remained well educated guesses, and nothing more, in 1993. Such a tale was both tantalizing and troubling, and no one before Kramer had quite animated psychiatry while circumscribing it in such an elegant way.
The second attraction of this book was the drug itself, Fluoxetine, marketed under the brand name Prozac. Prozac was not the only member of new wave antidepressants, the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRI's, available in 1993.
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Prior to reading Kramer's now-classic ruminations on Prozac and its sibling drugs, I read Joseph Glenmullen's Prozac Backlash, a damning response to Kramer's work. Glenmullen is convincing and well documented (and speaks to my own prejudices); therefore, I was prepared to despise Kramer. I didn't. And I don't. Granted, Kramer does not spend much time on the undesirable side effects of Prozac and other antidepressant drugs, but it's almost beside the point, since his emphasis tends towards philosophical and ethical efficacy, rather than medical efficacy. Kramer does not pretend to be doing anything other than laying bare some very challenging questions. He prescribed Prozac as an antidepressant and discovered that it was altering personalities--not in the far more negative way that was later found in cases of uncharacteristic violence, but in ways that patients perceived as positive. Formerly shy people were far more outgoing. Kramer raises an important question: Is it ethical to withhold a treatment for painful shyness when the physician has no reason to diagnose depression? Dozens of (to me) frightening facts are reported; for instance, for the past fifty years it has been commonplace to make a diagnosis after observing drug side effects. In other words, now that we know that Prozac can cure shyness in some people, shyness is now a diagnosis that needs a cure. Particularly interesting and insightful is Kramer's observation that certain personality characteristics are valued (or de-valued) in various cultural scenarios, which change over time as well as from one group to another.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
The stories of Kramer's patients, and his meditations on our changing understanding of 'self' and happiness, are fascinating in their own right. Kramer has an engaging style and obviously reads a lot outside of his discipline which is nice! If you are considering Prozac, Kramer addresses all of the philosophical questions you might have about the decision. I never would have started taking Prozac had I not read this book, and like so many of Kramer's clients, the drug has really transformed my life.
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Format: Paperback
This author is truly eloquent. Although he covers subjects ranging from the experiences of his own clients to more scientific discussions of how biology plays into the experience of depression, it never once lost my attention. After reading this book, I felt like I'd gotten a little "self-help" as well as a nice mini-course in the psychology and biology of the human being. Read this if you love someone who is depressed and is trying "new" antidepressants, not just because it will give you a good grasp of the workings of the drugs themselves, but also because it illuminates beautifully the day to day experiences of dealing with depression.
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Format: Paperback
Any author who can speak persuasively of "psychopharmacological Calvinism" merits attention. I am a psychiatrist (perforce a psychopharmacologist) in private practice and teaching psychopharmacology to graduate students in a predominantly behaviorally oriented doctoral program in psychology. This is one of the textbooks required for the course, and springboards the best discussions of the semester. I disagree only with the author's position that we must conclude we can change personalities with Prozac because our current diagnostic criteria for depression don't include such "personality traits" as shyness. It would be helpful to readers of all backgrounds if he explored more thoroughly the methods by which our standard diagnostic criteria are chosen (1). With that single caveat, I wholeheartedly endorse this very well written, entertaining, rigorously reasoned, and unique book for anyone who wishes to see how to think about ethical and philosophical issues in science, particularly in patient care aspects of medicine in a managed care environment.
One additional caution; the author states very explicitly in the beginning of this work that he does not pretend to be presenting a complete and well-rounded view of Prozac-and I reiterate this warning the day we begin to study it in my course-yet my students may still complain that it paints too onesided a picture of Prozac. So read what the author says and believe it; it will save some pointless carping later on.
(1) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association Ed 4 (DSM IV) American Psychiatric Press; criteria are not all inclusive but chosen to discriminate among various disorders.
-Phil Torrance MD (Diplomate in Psychiatry)
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