A Historical Dictionary of Psychiatry

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This is the first historical dictionary of psychiatry. It covers the subject from autism to Vienna, and includes the key concepts, individuals, places, and institutions that have shaped the evolution of psychiatry and the neurosciences. An introduction puts broad trends and international differences in context, and there is an extensive bibliography for further reading. Each entry gives the main dates, themes, and personalities involved in the unfolding of the topic. Longer entries describe the evolution of such subjects as depression, schizophrenia, and psychotherapy. The book gives ready reference to when things happened in psychiatry, how and where they happened, and who made the main contributions. In addition, it touches on such social themes as "women in psychiatry," "criminality and psychiatry," and "homosexuality and psychiatry." A comprehensive index makes immediately accessible subjects that do not appear in the alphabetical listing. Among those who will appreciate this dictionary are clinicians curious about the origins of concepts they use in their daily practices, such as "paranoia," "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors" (SSRIs), or "tardive dyskinesia"; basic scientists who want ready reference to the development of such concepts as "neurotransmitters," "synapse," or "neuroimaging"; students of medical history keen to situate the psychiatric narrative within larger events, and the general public curious about illnesses that might affect them, their families and their communities-or readers who merely want to know about the grand chain of events from the asylum to Freud to Prozac. Bringing together information from the English, French, German, Italian, and Scandinavian languages, the Dictionary rests on an enormous base of primary sources that cover the growth of psychiatry through all of Western society.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Reviewer: Philip W. Leon, PhD (The Citadel)
Description: Although the word dictionary appears in the title, do not expect to see entries with brief definitions. This book contains mini-essays arranged alphabetically with full explication and cross-referencing.
Purpose: Shorter wants his book to be an overview of the major personalities, localities, pharmacological developments, and trends in psychiatry, emphasizing the mid-nineteenth century to the present. He readily admits that he embraces a biological approach to psychiatry as opposed to psychoanalysis that once held sway in the field. In presenting the major influences in the field he answers questions such as "What is the current influence of Freud on modern psychiatry?" (Not much.) "What role have the large pharmaceutical companies played in bringing us to the present state of neuroscientific solutions to disorders of the brain and mind?" (An overwhelmingly influential one.) The author does a remarkable job of sorting out important issues without adopting a polemical tone; his entries inform but do not lecture. The reader who follows his skillful cross-references and subentries will find a chronology unfolding.
Audience: Intended for "clinicians and scientists today as well as for general readers who wish to know the origins of currently familiar concepts," this book is engagingly interesting and readable. The author is not hesitant to use metaphoric language, even if occasionally an editor should have sharpened the blue pencil: "The few provincial universities that acquired departments of psychiatry late in the nineteenth century were not really on anybody's radar." Well, nothing was on the nonexistent radar screen in the nineteenth century, was it?
Features: Some readers might feel that Shorter has "shorted" them by his omissions. The term "alienist," the nineteenth-century term for psychiatrist, is not listed. Given the fact that the author is Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Toronto, I expected to see more entries with a Canadian flavor. McGill University's neurosurgery pioneer, Wilder Penfield, receives half of one sentence. Walt Whitman's disciple, Richard Maurice Bucke, who performed pathbreaking work at the London (Ontario) Insane Asylum, is not mentioned at all, although a biography about him is listed in the bibliography. Nor does Shorter mention Joseph Workman, whom a recent biography unashamedly calls "The Father of Canadian Psychiatry," while he does offer an essay on Benjamin Rush, "The Father of American Psychiatry."
Assessment: I did not find an entry, or at least a subentry, for "phrenology," now laughably quaint, that early attempt at biological psychiatry that once received serious attention. He has an extensive subentry for wartime "Shell Shock" under the entry "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder," but never mentions the English psychiatrist William Rivers and his work during World War I at Craiglockhart Hospital where he treated the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Still, these are merely omissions, not flaws, and the overall quality and readability of this valuable book more than compensates. I highly recommend it for all college, university, and public libraries.

3 Stars from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195176681
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 2/17/2005
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Table of Contents

Dictionary Entries
Bibliographical Essay and Bibliography

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