In this enthralling work of popular science, respected Harvard psychiatrist Jordan Smoller addresses one of humankind?s most enduring and perplexing questions: What does it mean to be ?normal?? In The Other Side of Normal, Smoller explores the biological component of normalcy, revealing the hidden side of our everyday behaviors?why we love what we love and fear what we fear. Other bestselling works of neurobiology and the mind have focused on mental illness and abnormal behaviors?like the Oliver Sacks classic, ...
In this enthralling work of popular science, respected Harvard psychiatrist Jordan Smoller addresses one of humankind’s most enduring and perplexing questions: What does it mean to be “normal?” In The Other Side of Normal, Smoller explores the biological component of normalcy, revealing the hidden side of our everyday behaviors—why we love what we love and fear what we fear. Other bestselling works of neurobiology and the mind have focused on mental illness and abnormal behaviors—like the Oliver Sacks classic, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat—but The Other Side of Normal is an eye-opening, thought-provoking, utterly fascinating and totally accessible exploration of the universals of human experience. It will change forever our understanding of who we are and what makes us that way.
The premise of this exciting book by Smoller, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is as simple as it is provocative: “Rather than constructing disorders by labeling the extremes—the troubled mind and the broken brain—we must start with an understanding of the normal.” As he so well explains, normal isn’t a singular form of behavior or feeling but a range on a broader spectrum. Similarly, there is no single point at which normal becomes abnormal in all situations. Smoller says that understanding the evolutionary roots of human brain functioning and behavior is essential to defining “normal.” Clearly and articulately, tying evolutionary psychology, biological psychiatry, animal behavior, and related fields into a package of rare coherence, he integrates cutting-edge research with case studies of his own patients. By exploring the origins of emotions such as trust, fear, love, and empathy, he forces us to think about what it means to cross the line from normal to abnormal. And he does a remarkable job of ensuring that we revisit and improve both the concept of pathology and its treatment. 11 illus. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. (May)
Smoller (psychiatry & epidemiology, Harvard Univ.) has written a highly interesting and accessible study of brain science and behavior. Couching his discussion in the familiar debate about nature vs. nurture, he makes the case that these forces work together in a complicated dance that determines human individuality. He frequently references the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the controversies there surrounding the definitions of normal vs. abnormal behavior. He seems to conclude that what is normal is most frequently defined in contrast to what is not normal. He ends his investigation of the normal by noting that abnormal behavior can be treated, the brain "rewired" with drug therapy. Smoller leaves unanswered the question of the ethical implications of manipulating the "abnormal" brain. VERDICT This thoroughly documented work provides enough information to satisfy the science-savvy without leaving the rest of us behind. Personal asides scattered throughout keep the tone from being textbook-dry. Readers interested in human behavior will be fascinated. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/11.]—Margaret Cardwell, Memphis
Smoller (Psychiatry and Epidemiology/Harvard Univ.; co-author: Psychiatric Genetics, 2008) suggests that "[l]ike the purloined letter of Poe's tale, many of the most fundamental features of the normal mind have been hidden in plain sight." The author uses the 2010 announcement by the American Psychiatric Association of provisional plans to revise the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as an opportunity to revisit the hot-button issue of what constitutes mental disease. In his opinion, one of the shortcomings of the DSM is its creation of "categories from constellations of symptoms" without understanding how they connect to the "functional organization of the mind and brain." While Smoller recognizes that it is sometimes necessary to treat an illness such as delirium without understanding its basic cause, he believes that the process of diagnosis and treatment can be dramatically improved by recognizing syndromes as "perturbations of normal systems and mechanisms." He identifies spectrums of normal behavior, citing research showing that temperamental qualities in adults--for example, being easygoing or prone to anxiety--can be traced to early childhood. Although it is not possible yet to clarify the nurture/nature debate, a correlation has been found between variations of specific genes associated with temperament and neurotransmitters. Brain scans have also identified differences in the brains of highly reactive individuals as compared to low-reactive infants. Smoller notes that while ADHD and similar disorders are often problematic today, such behavior might have conferred a reproductive advantage in previous eras of human evolution. An informative overview of research in neuroscience that provides a scientific foundation for understanding mental disorders.
“Smoller redefines the biology of normal.”
“Are we born crazy, or is crazy thrust upon us? Smoller investigates.”
“Move over Oliver Sacks - I couldn’t put this fascinating book down! Path-breaking and witty, as entertaining as it is informative, The Other Side of Normal is filled with insights into why we behave as we do and how biology determines so much of our emotional makeup. A brilliant mind and dazzling writer, Smoller has written a book that will change the way you look at every day life.”