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Desperate Remedies

Psychiatry and the Mysteries of Mental Illness

Andrew Scull



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18 July 2023
In this acclaimed work, Andrew Scull, one of the most provocative thinkers writing about psychiatry, sheds light on its troubled history

For more than two hundred years, disturbances of reason, cognition and emotion - the sort of things that were once called 'madness' - have been described and treated by the medical profession. Mental illness, it is said, is an illness like any other - a disorder that can be treated by doctors, whose suffering can be eased, and from which patients can return. And yet serious mental illness remains a profound mystery that is in some ways no closer to being solved than it was at the start of the twentieth century.

In this clear-sighted and provocative exploration of psychiatry, acclaimed sociologist Andrew Scull traces the history of its attempts to understand and mitigate mental illness- from the age of the asylum and unimaginable surgical and chemical interventions, through the rise and fall of Freud and the talking cure, and on to our own time of drug companies and antidepressants. Through it all, Scull argues, the often vain and rash attempts to come to terms with the enigma of mental disorder have frequently resulted in dire consequences for the patient.

Deeply researched and lucidly conveyed, Desperate Remedies masterfully illustrates the assumptions and theory behind the therapy, providing a definitive new account of psychiatry's and society's battle with mental illness.

Imprint:   Penguin
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 198mm,  Width: 129mm,  Spine: 23mm
Weight:   348g
ISBN:   9780141996455
ISBN 10:   0141996455
Pages:   512
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  Professional and scholarly ,  College/higher education ,  ELT Advanced ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Andrew Scull is a distinguished professor of Sociology and Science Studies at University of California, San Diego, and recipient of the Roy Porter Medal for lifetime contributions to the history of medicine, and the Eric T. Carlson Award for lifetime contributions to the history of psychiatry. The author of more than a dozen books, his work has been translated into more than fifteen languages, and he has received fellowships from, among others, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies.

Reviews for Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry and the Mysteries of Mental Illness

This fascinating picture of psychiatry since 1900 is absolutely essential, deeply felt and absorbing -- David Aaronovitch * The Times * An erudite, precise and impassioned history of 200 years of psychiatry ... five stars -- Simon Ings * The Sunday Telegraph * The chilling truth about mental illness: opportunists, asylums and big pharma - there are few heroes in this enraging study of a great failing. Fascinating -- Sebastian Faulks * The Sunday Times * Desperate Remedies, which tells the story of mental illness over the past two centuries, is meticulously researched and beautifully written, and even funny at times, despite the serious content * Guardian * A vital rallying cry. Scull convincingly conveys the long search for a better take on mental disorder * TLS * A blistering critique. Scull's arguments are passionately delivered and while some might sound radical, they also have common sense * New Statesman * An indisputable masterpiece...a comprehensive, fascinating, and persuasive narrative of the past 200 years of psychiatry. Scull is unsparing in his critiques when motives of money, power, and fame have tempted psychiatrists to disregard the welfare of those under their care * Wall Street Journal * I would recommend this fascinating, alarming and alerting book to anybody. For anyone referred to a psychiatrist it is surely essential -- Horatio Clare * The Spectator * Brimming with wisdom and brio, this masterful work spans the history of modern psychiatric practice, from the abject horrors of Victorian asylums to the complexities surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness to this day. Exceedingly well-researched, wide-ranging, provocative in its conclusions, and magically compact, it is riveting from start to finish. Mark my words, Desperate Remedies will soon be a classic -- Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire and The Great Pretender Desperate Remedies is a harrowing, heart-pounding history that will leave you gasping. Andrew Scull vividly transports us to the dismal asylums and experimental operating rooms that haunt psychiatry's past and then links that tragic era with our prescription-happy present. Dryly witty, but always compassionate, he shines a light on a century of medical mayhem and the horror it inflicted on the innocent. This is a riveting, powerful and utterly astonishing read -- Simon Rich, author of Hits and Misses Andrew Scull weighs American psychiatry in the balance and finds it seriously wanting. So this may not be the best introductory text for an aspiring medical student. But it is required reading for anyone who appreciates great writing, insight and outstanding scholarship - just the kind of people we want doing psychiatry -- Professor Sir Simon Wessely, Regius Professor of Psychiatry, King’s College London A riveting chronicle of faulty science, false promises, arrogance, greed, and shocking disregard for the wellbeing of patients suffering from mental disorders. An eloquent, meticulously documented, clear-eyed call for change -- Dirk Wittenborn, author of Pharmakon An immensely engaging - if often dismaying - account of American psychiatry. Scull impressively balances the social reality that constitutes 'mental illness' with the ever-shifting rationales used to explain such unsettling behaviors and emotions and justify the social function of those who manage these elusive ills. Desperate Remedies is an important contribution to our understanding of a fundamental and still-contested aspect of human experience -- Charles Rosenberg, author of The Care of Strangers An important plea for psychiatrists not to be seduced into offering a cure that is worse than the disease...Scull's engaging account of the development of psychiatry and psychiatric treatments since the 19th century shows history repeating itself many times over...The grisly part of Scull's story is not gratuitous. It is the context from which modern drugs such as antidepressants and antipsychotics emerged...Desperate Remedies is a reminder of the tragic and barbarous measures that have often been inflicted on people in the name of curing mental disturbance * Literary Review * A provocative and often persuasive analysis of psychiatry...A must-read for those who have been - or fear they will be - touched by mental illness. If psychiatry is to survive, Scull concludes, psychiatrists must be more candid about the limits of their knowledge * Psychology Today * Scull is well aware that psychiatry has vacillated between treating 'the mind' with therapeutic dialogue and treating 'the body' with surgery and psychotropic drugs...The medical discipline has never known and still does not know what it is treating. Scull directs the reader's attention to the fact that after decades of research and billions of dollars spent, not a single biomarker for psychiatric sickness has been discovered * Washington Post * An intensely skeptical history and analysis of psychiatry. The gist of his argument is: although there have been undeniable advancements, mental illness remains baffling, and no discipline has done a great job of treating symptoms and understanding causes. Scull has written the best kind of 'feel-bad' book, lashing offenders left and right with his whip of evidence * New York Times * For me the greatest value of Desperate Remedies is the brilliant spotlight that Scull shines on historical and current truths about psychiatry. There is an implicit plea that is interwoven throughout the book for a measure of relief from the 'devastating tragedy' that envelops people with mental illness. Medical students intending to train in psychiatry would be well served by the masterful perspective Scull provides and the penetrating questions he raises for the profession * The Lancet * Scull delivers a remarkable history of psychiatry. The final section is a devastatingly effective chronicle of the rise of psychopharmacology and its tendency to regard all mental illnesses as potentially treatable with the right medication. This sweeping and comprehensive survey is an impressive feat * Publishers Weekly * A carefully researched history of psychiatry, it provides a critical assessment of the psychiatric enterprise. In the rush to find cures for psychiatric illnesses, Scull believes that there has been a disappointing lack of focus on patients * Psychiatric News *

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