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Against Depression

Against Depression

4.0 5
by Peter D. Kramer

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Against Depression is an assessment of the science of mood disorder - a field that has taken leaps forward in the past decade. Walking the reader through the full range of new research, Kramer shows how depression endangers nerve cells, disrupts brain functioning, damages the heart and the blood vessels, alters personal perspective and judgment, and interferes


Against Depression is an assessment of the science of mood disorder - a field that has taken leaps forward in the past decade. Walking the reader through the full range of new research, Kramer shows how depression endangers nerve cells, disrupts brain functioning, damages the heart and the blood vessels, alters personal perspective and judgment, and interferes with parenting and family life. As the evidence mounts, there is no denying the obvious - that depression now qualifies fully as a disease, one of the most devastating known to humankind. And yet, says Kramer, "we do not approach depression as a disease, not in our daily thinking." Depression, linked in our culture to a long tradition of "heroic melancholy," is often understood as ennobling - a source of creativity, integrity, insight, and even sensuality. Tracing these beliefs from Aristotle to the Romantics to Picasso, and to present-day memoirs of mood disorder, Kramer suggests that the pervasiveness of the illness has distorted our impression of what it is to be human. He shows how a head-on look at depression as we now know it will change our sense of self, our tastes in art and in love, and our account of what it is to live a good life.

Editorial Reviews

Author Peter Kramer wants to give depression a bad name. The author of Listening to Prozac thinks that our culture has suffered from a centuries-long romance with sadness. Refuting claims that depression is a source of soulfulness and creativity, he identifies it as a debilitating disease that plagues millions of Americans. More important, he describes the latest scientific findings about depression and explains their implications for treating this grim malady.
Natalie Angier
Kramer presents a sustained case that depression, far from enhancing cognitive or emotional powers, essentially pokes holes in the brain, killing neurons and causing key regions of the prefrontal cortex -- the advanced part of the brain, located just behind the forehead -- to shrink measurably in size. He lucidly explains a wealth of recent research on the disease, citing work in genetics, biochemistry, brain imaging, the biology of stress, studies of identical twins. He compares the brain damage from depression with that caused by strokes. As a result of diminished blood flow to the brain, he says, many elderly stroke patients suffer crippling depressions.
David Brown
In his new book, Peter D. Kramer examines depression with a cool, intelligent and sympathetic eye. The author of the wildly popular Listening to Prozac , he is a practicing psychiatrist who sees depression and its human cost nearly every working day. He asks two interesting questions: If we could eradicate depression, would we? And if we did, would we lose anything of value?
— The Washingon Post
Publishers Weekly
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 definedepression-perhaps it's best understood by its opposite: "A resilient mind, sustained by a resilient brain and body."
Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his best-selling Listening to Prozac, psychiatrist Kramer (Brown Univ.) explored the social implications of psychotropic personality change; he did not address the actual effects of these drugs on the severely depressed, yet he was constantly asked, "What if van Gogh (or, in Denmark, Kierkegaard) had been given antidepressants?"-the suggestion being that depression, or the depressive personality, is important to the production of works of genius. This led to the present book, which examines the question, "If we could eradicate depression so that no human being ever suffered it again, would we?" His answer is a resounding yes; depression is a major cause of distress with no redeeming value. In the process, he argues that the idea of "heroic melancholy" is simply a way our culture has developed to cope with a disorder that we can't cure-analogous to the way that tuberculars were once thought to be especially sensitive and creative. Along the way, Kramer offers an excellent summary of current biochemical theories of depression. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. —Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA
Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A heartfelt argument that depression is not, as many would have it, a source of heroic melancholy and artistic genius, but, rather, a pathological condition that should, if possible, be eradicated. When Kramer (Clinical Psychiatry/Brown Univ.) made public appearances after publication of his best-selling Listening to Prozac (1993), audiences persistently challenged him with questions like, "What if Prozac had been available in van Gogh's time?" The assumption that suffering from mental illness is a prerequisite to genius and that humanity would be the poorer if depression were conquered is anathema to Kramer. Instead, he asserts, it is "the most devastating disease known to humankind," and to back up his claim he cites some astonishing statistics: $40 billion in lost productivity in the United States, for example, or 3 percent of GDP. In a wide-ranging essay that draws on his own life and on his years of treating patients, he explores the gap between common perceptions of depression and the scientific understanding of it. In the first of three parts here, "What It Is to Us," he looks at the charm of depression and its erotic power, at the way people are drawn to such precursors of depression as moodiness, passivity and vulnerability. In "What It Is," he reviews research in biological psychiatry and neuroscience that links depression to frank abnormalities in the nervous system, including problems in stress responses, repair of cells in critical brain regions, and small or malfunctioning hippocampus glands. Finally, in "What It Will Be," Kramer envisions a world without depression and lists benefits of its eradication. Without depression to fear, he says, we would be free to be quirky andneurotic, to take risks more openly and to love more generously-and we'd still have art and artists. While not predicting that depression will be eliminated anytime soon, Kramer brings hope to those afflicted by it. A clear, valuable exposition of the progress researchers are making in understanding an all-too-common disease. Author tour
From the Publisher
"An eloquent, absorbing book." —The New York Times Book Review

"Deeply felt... [Kramer's] book is a polemic against a society that accepts depression as a fact of life." —O, The Oprah Magazine

"Kramer makes an eloquent case for considering depression a disease... Captivating, convincing and thorough." —San Francisco Chronicle

In Against Depression, Peter Kramer opens our eyes once again to a fresh, important and humane understanding of the human condition. His bold rethinking of the condition we call 'depression' gives us a clear-eyed scenario for freedom from the grip of this soul-searing disorder." —Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

"There is nothing romantic in the suffering of depression. Kramer shows us the horrific reality of the illness, dispelling myths that pervade popular culture. This book should usher in an era when the disordered chemistry of the brain is viewed with the same concern and care that mark the treatment of any malady." —Jerome Groopman, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

"Here one of our most thoughtful psychiatrists attends a wide-spread psychological malady—the bouts of melancholy that afflict so many individuals, laying them low in mind and spirit. This book offers much critical wisdom, even as it is written with a grace and sensitivity that will endear its words to the reader." —Robert Coles, Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities, Harvard Medical School

"Our treasured sense of self is often challenged by neuroscience—how do you wedge 'Self' in among neurons and synapses and neurotransmitters? No one has written about these issues in a more sensitive, thought-provoking and accessible way, and has touched more people in the process, than Peter Kramer." —Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.19(d)

Meet the Author

Peter D. Kramer, M.D., recently named host of the national, weekly public radio series, The Infinite Mind, is "possibly the best-known psychiatrist in America," as The New York Times put it. Peter Kramer received his M.D. from Harvard and is the best-selling author of Listening to Prozac, Should You Leave?, Spectacular Happiness, and Moments of Engagement. His latest book, Against Depression, will be published in May 2005.

In 2004, two programs of The Infinite Mind hosted by Kramer won top media awards: a Gracie Allen Award from the American Women in Radio and Television for an examination of "Domestic Violence" and a National Mental Health Association Media Award for “Between Two Worlds: Mental Health for Immigrants. Kramer has written for The New York Times Magazine and The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book Review, The Washington Post, the (London) Times Literary Supplement and U.S. News & World Report, among other publications. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University, and has a private practice.

Visit Dr. Peter D. Kramer on the web: http://www.peterdkramer.com 

The Infinite Mind: http://www.theinfinitemind.com/

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Against Depression 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of Peter Kramer's books, especially Listening to Prozac, which is a psychopharmacological classic. Against Depression does not disappoint either, and in it he dispels the modern notion that depression should be held in esteem and even romanticized. He instead sees depression as simply an ugly, biological disease of the brain, that can also have negative effects on the rest of the body. He cites evidence that depression can be associated with damage to the brain, which is a frightening possibility. On the other hand, it should be noted that within the last decade or so it has been shown that the adult human brain can generate new neurons, so perhaps the brain can heal itself from potential damage due to depression. A mild criticism: perhaps Dr. Kramer should draw a distinction between someone who's a bit melancholic and wistful--where these two traits may be viewed as appealing by some--and someone with overt major depression, including sleep disturbance and other highly unpleasant symptoms. The former person may not have anything truly 'wrong' with his brain, whereas the latter probably does. Overall, a very well written book, with a philosophical bent, that should appeal to anyone interested in depression.
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