Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (April 21)
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465027101
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/1/1986
  • Pages: 330

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2003

    A very thought provoking history

    Professor Valenstein has written a very interesting and uneasy history of the physical treatments for mental illness. Though we're shown the honest attempts by doctors of the past to treat madness, we also see situations where a lack of scientific testing resulted in what could only be called torture for those who were already suffering. We are taken on a trip down the fine line between experimental medicine, and psychiatric quackery. A must read.

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