Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores Antidepressant Drugs and the Remaking of the Self: Revised Edition


Since it was introduced in 1987, Prozac has been prescribed to nearly five million Americans. But what is Prozac? A medication or a mental steroid? A cure for depression, or a drug that changes personality? Reported to turn shy people into social butterflies and to improve work performance, memory, even dexterity, does Prozac work on character rather than illness? Are we using it cosmetically, to make people more attractive, more energetic, more socially acceptable? And what does it tell us about the nature ...

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Since it was introduced in 1987, Prozac has been prescribed to nearly five million Americans. But what is Prozac? A medication or a mental steroid? A cure for depression, or a drug that changes personality? Reported to turn shy people into social butterflies and to improve work performance, memory, even dexterity, does Prozac work on character rather than illness? Are we using it cosmetically, to make people more attractive, more energetic, more socially acceptable? And what does it tell us about the nature of character and the mutability of self? With the addition of an afterword that gives us an up-to-date report on Prozac in America today, including his personal observations, reactions to his critics, and the latest scientific research, psychiatrist Peter Kramer reinforces what The New York Times calls 'an intelligent and informative book...which tells us new things about the chemistry of human character.'

Dr. Kramer was recently asked to guest host The Infinite Mind, a weekly public radio show focusing on the art and science of the human mind and spirit, behavior, and mental health. Listen to the show now.

"...addresses the debate about whether Prozac is an effective anti-depressant or simply a cosmetic drug that changes people's moods...examines the criticisms & controversies as well as the praise its use has generated."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Tracing the development of mood-altering drugs, in particular the widely used antidepressant Prozac, psychiatrist Kramer ( Moments of Engagement ) synthesizes recent biochemical research, psychological and biosocial theories in a comprehensive, provocative study. Citing cases from his practice and the conclusions of such researchers as Donald Klein, Jerome Kagan and Robert Post, among others, he examines current thinking about what determines personality traits and character. Observing the effectiveness of Prozac in releasing confidence and energy in patients who are somewhat inhibited by depression, compulsiveness or timidity, he raises important questions about the way drugs can influence diagnoses. He sees application of medication as particularly valuable in cases where a patient's symptoms become functionally autonomous, appearing independent of their originating stimuli. Calling for an approach that combines psychotherapy with psychopharmacology, Kramer urges careful, studied use of Prozac with continuing attention given to the philosophical, moral and sociological issues its effectiveness raises. (June)
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
Kramer (psychiatry, Brown U.) writes on "the capacity of modern medication to allow a person to experience, on a stable and continuing basis, the feelings of someone with a different temperament and history," as "one born with a different genome and exposed to a more benign world in childhood"--p.195. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
A provocative volume that sets up the mood-altering Prozac as a tool to examine the growing—and often troubling—use of drugs in the treatment of psychological illness. Brown University professor Kramer (Moments of Engagement, 1989—not reviewed) is a practicing psychiatrist who uses traditional techniques of therapy but also prescribes Prozac and other psychopharmaceuticals for his patients when they seem appropriate. Thanks to exposure on TV talk shows, Prozac is associated in many people's minds with suicide and violence, but only in the last chapter here—an appendix, really—does the author argue directly against these charges. What he explores instead are the far-reaching implications of the generally positive changes in temperament triggered by Prozac and other drugs prescribed to relieve anxiety and depression, and what these medications have taught us about how character and temperament are shaped. Prozac relieves mild depression, for instance, by elevating levels of serotonin in the brain. Knowledge of that fact opens the door to further investigation of chemical pathways in the brain, individual variations in levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, and perhaps even to early diagnosis and treatment of mood disorders. But, as Kramer points out, it also opens the possibility of altering brain chemistry to order, perhaps transforming a shy, sensitive individual into a sociable, assertive personality—the kind that present society most values. Acquisition of such a temperament, in fact, is the effect that Prozac has on many of Kramer's patients. But what has been lost when sensitivity is replaced by assertiveness? What is the "real" personality?Such thoughtful questioning is supported throughout by case histories and meaty reports on recent research. Some of the material suggests that if Freud was wrong about the content of childhood trauma (the Oedipal attachments), he was not wrong about its far-reaching effects. A wise and unflinching examination of the ramifications for society—and for the individual—when the capsule replaces the couch.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140266719
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/1997
  • Edition description: Revised Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 206,686
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.95 (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: 

The Infinite Mind:

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Table of Contents

1. Makeover
2. Compulsion
3. Antidepressants
4. Sensitivity
5. Stress
6. Risk
7. Formes Frustes: Low Self-Esteem
8. Formes Frustes: Inhibition of Pleasure, Sluggishness of Thought
9. The Message in the Capsule
Appendix: Violence
Afterword to the 1997 edition

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2004

    Author is out of touch with audience

    Recently had the chance to attend the author's seminar during Grand Rounds at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. While the book may have reached an audience at one time, the author is presently out of touch with his clinical as well as lay audience. Kramer read from his latest book, starting with Chapter 1, page 1, for an entire hour and a half, failing to recognize that the audience was bored, frustrated and flustered with his performance. While he offered two comments to audience questions, he seems to present philosophical arguments for every scenario regardless of complexity or severity. Although he was at one time coherent and on task, he seems today to be arrogant and poorly informed to the real issues that touch people in their daily lives. One doubts the veracity of his research if he is the presenting clinician - on the other hand, he was represented by Pfizer and he did represent himself as an appropriate advertisemet.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2003

    The king of psychiatry

    In my view, Kay Jamison ('An Unquiet Mind') is the queen of psychiatry and Peter Kramer is the king. He earned the title by writing 'Listening to Prozac', which stands out as truly unique in the psychiatric literature. It is a combination of interesting case studies, biological data, and philosophical reflection. Kramer has great insight into the psyche and writes extremely well. The book will appeal to a broad audience of nearly anyone interested in how the mind works. In fact, it should be required reading for practically everyone!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2002

    Good Insight to what it feels like to be depressed and then "cured"

    This book was suggested to me by my psychiatrist when I asked him if I could be prescribed an anti-depressant. He encouraged me to read as much as I could before he would give me anything. After reading this book, I realized that I related to many of the people whose stories are in this book. While I feel the book is sort of geared toward an audience that is looking for the answer to: is this drug cosmetic or necessary?- it's a lot more than that. I, personally, do not feel this is a cosmetic drug- not in my situation. It helped me to make the right decision. I've taken control back in my life since.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2008

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