Category Archives: Book Reviews

Laura Stark’s Review of Patient H.M. in Science

As part of our continuing coverage of the controversy that has erupted over Luke Dittrich’s recently released Patient H.M., we bring to your attention a just released review of the book in Science. In her review, Laura Stark provides a welcome perspective on Dittrich’s work, especially in relation to his portrayal of Suzanne Corkin. As Stark writes,

It seems inevitable that the book will be compared to the patient biography The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. But, while Dittrich is an exceptional writer, he focuses his talents in the last half of his book on a takedown of rival author Suzanne Corkin, missing opportunities to turn his own family story into one of more universal scope….

Dittrich only reveals at the end that Corkin was writing her own book on H.M., which recasts his story up to that point in a new light. It helps make sense of his eagerness to see her actions as personal slights, character flaws, and bad science rather than symptoms of broken systems. It is a pity, because his sense of personal grievance narrows him into a story about a uniquely menacing scientist rather than a universal story of the legal and institutional ties that bind even well-intentioned people.

The review is out from behind Science‘s paywall and can be read in full here.

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Psychobook is Perfect for Your Coffee Table

A soon to be published book from Princeton Architectural Press may be just what every psychologist and historian of psychology has been waiting for to  adorn their coffee table. Psychobook is a lavishly  illustrated volume documenting the history of psychological testing.

As a recent piece in The New Yorker puts it,

“Psychobook” comprises an eclectic assortment of tests from the early twentieth century to the present, along with new artworks and whimsical questionnaires inspired by the originals. These materials are interlaced with vintage and contemporary photographs, portraits, collages, and film stills of psychologists analyzing patients or staring incisively into space, sometimes in idiosyncratically decorated Manhattan offices. It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.

Put it on your wish list now.

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Neuroskeptic Review: Patient H.M.

Neuroskeptic, part of Discover Magazine’s series of blogs, recently posted a review of a new book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. The book, written by Luke Dittrich who is himself the grandson of H.M.’s neurosurgeon, tells the story of the infamous case study of the patient now known to be Henry Molaison.

In the review Neuroskeptic focuses on three troubling aspects of H.M.’s story as discussed in the book. First, the psychosurgery performed on H.M. to address his epilepsy had no medical basis. Second, H.M.’s life was not nearly as sedate and content as it often portrayed and he threatened suicide at various points in time. Finally, the ethics of Suzanne Corkin’s longterm study of H.M. is thrown into doubt as, following the death of his parents, H.M. lacked a legal conservator to speak to his interests. This meant that H.M. himself provided consent for many of Corkin’s studies, though whether this can be understood as informed consent is doubtful. Moreover, the cousin eventually appointed conservator for H.M., it turns out, was not related to H.M. at all and simply provided blanket consent for Corkin’s tests of H.M.

Read Neuroskeptic’s full review online here.

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Social History of Medicine “Focus on Managing Mental Disorder”

The may 2016 issue of Social History of Medicine includes a section of book reviews focusing on the historiography of mental disorders. The books reviewed in this section are as follows:

  • Leonard Smith, Insanity, Race and Colonialism: Managing Mental Disorder in the Post-Emancipation British Caribbean 1838–1914  (Reviewer Pedro L. V. Welch)
  • Louise Hide, Gender and Class in English Asylums, 1890–1914 (Reviewer Catharine Colborne)
  • Howard Chiang (ed.), Psychiatry and Chinese History (Studies for the Society for the Social History of Medicine) (Reviewer Lijing Jiang)
  •  Laure Murat, The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon: Toward a Political History of Madness (Reviewer Aude Fauvel)
  • Claudia Malacrida, A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta’s Eugenic Years (Reviewer Katrina N. Jirik)

Find the full texts through the journal table of contents here.

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Steven Shapin on Autism: “Seeing the Spectrum” in The New Yorker

In this week’s issue of The New Yorker historian of science Steven Shapin explores the complicated history of autism in his review of John Donvan and Caren Zucker’s new book In a Different Key: The Story of Autism. As Shapin writes,

The history of how autism was discovered, how the term entered the vocabulary of psychological expertise and also of everyday speech, and how its identity has evolved has been told many times. Chloe Silverman’s 2012 book, “Understanding Autism,” is the most sensitive account by an academic historian, and Steve Silberman’s best-selling work “NeuroTribes” (2015) is a deep history of autism, which ends up as a discussion of how we ought to think about it today. Now comes “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker (Crown). The authors are journalists, and, like many writers on the subject, they have a personal interest in autism. Donvan has a severely autistic brother-in-law. Zucker’s son has autism, and so does a grandson of Robert MacNeil, a former anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” for which Zucker produced a series of programs on the condition. Appropriately, a major focus of the book is on autism in the family and the changing historical role of parents of autistic children. “In a Different Key” is a story about autism as it has passed through largely American institutions, shaped not only by psychiatrists and psychologists but by parents, schools, politicians, and lawyers. It shows how, in turn, the condition acquired a powerful capacity both to change those institutions and to challenge our notions of what is pathological and what is normal.

The full review can be read online here.

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Recent Reviews of Clinical Psychology in Britain: Historical Perspectives

AHP is happy to reprint two recent reviews of the new book Clinical Psychology in Britain: Historical Perspectives (announced on AHP here). These reviews were first published in the December 2015 issue of Clinical Psychology Forum, the house publication of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology. The full reviews follow below.

Review by Tony Wainright

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905

This book marks an important milestone in the history of clinical psychology in the UK, with 2016 being the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Division of Clinical Psychology. People are still around (some of the authors) who remember the founding of the NHS, which also closely marked the beginning of the profession.

I found that the best way of getting the most out of the book was to start with the last chapter – the editors’ collective reflections on writing it – and then go to the introduction. This provides a very helpful frame in which the other chapters can be viewed. They have very different writing styles; as they point out, some are clinicians, some are academics, some are historians; some have relatively mainstream views, some have much more radical and critical approaches. The editors have done an excellent job of making this all seem part of the fabric of the profession – diversity and variety being positive and generating creative energy.

In a short review it is not possible to cover all the chapters and full details of the book chapters are available on the Society’s History of Psychology Centre website.

Understanding the profession today is immensely enhanced by this book. The chapter by Pilgrim and Patel is particularly powerful in locating the emergence of the profession following the enormous upheaval of post-war politics, and charting its course through the swinging sixties to the present day. Continue reading Recent Reviews of Clinical Psychology in Britain: Historical Perspectives

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Sandra Harding interview on News Books in Sci, Tech, & Soc

9780226241364New Books in Science, Technology, and Society‘s Carla Nappi recently interviewed Sandra Harding about her volume Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Research (University of Chicago Press, 2015).

From the back of the book:

Harding calls for a science that is both more epistemically adequate and socially just, a science that would ask: How are the lives of the most economically and politically vulnerable groups affected by a particular piece of research? Do they have a say in whether and how the research is done? Should empirically reliable systems of indigenous knowledge count as “real science”? Ultimately, Harding argues for a shift from the ideal of a neutral, disinterested science to one that prizes fairness and responsibility.

In the podcast Harding discusses her personal background to the program of research which led to the book, as well as touching on the themes of the volumes’ various chapters: the relevant socio-political conditions for the current positivist and secularist conceptualizations of scientific objectivity within the philosophy of science; the development of research fields in science studies which have provided critical perspectives thereof; strategies for engaging in her ‘stronger’ objectivity that can provide resources for identifying how values and perspectives constitute what research is undertaken, how it is undertaken, and the conclusions we derive from it; and arguments for a pluralistic definition of science that validates ways of knowing that have traditionally been marginalized. In conclusion she provides an introduction to her latest research on postcolonialist science and technology studies in relation to Latin America.

Find Nappi’s interview here.

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New Books in STS Interview: Matthew Heaton’s Black Skin, White Coats

New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has posted an interview with Matthew Heaton about his recent book Black Skin, White Coats: Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of Psychiatry

As described on the publisher’s website,

Black Skin, White Coats is a history of psychiatry in Nigeria from the 1950s to the 1980s. Working in the contexts of decolonization and anticolonial nationalism, Nigerian psychiatrists sought to replace racist colonial psychiatric theories about the psychological inferiority of Africans with a universal and egalitarian model focusing on broad psychological similarities across cultural and racial boundaries. Particular emphasis is placed on Dr. T. Adeoye Lambo, the first indigenous Nigerian to earn a specialty degree in psychiatry in the United Kingdom in 1954. Lambo returned to Nigeria to become the medical superintendent of the newly founded Aro Mental Hospital in Abeokuta, Nigeria’s first “modern” mental hospital. At Aro, Lambo began to revolutionize psychiatric research and clinical practice in Nigeria, working to integrate “modern” western medical theory and technologies with “traditional” cultural understandings of mental illness. Lambo’s research focused on deracializing psychiatric thinking and redefining mental illness in terms of a model of universal human similarities that crossed racial and cultural divides.

Black Skin, White Coats is the first work to focus primarily on black Africans as producers of psychiatric knowledge and as definers of mental illness in their own right. By examining the ways that Nigerian psychiatrists worked to integrate their psychiatric training with their indigenous backgrounds and cultural and civic nationalisms, Black Skin, White Coats provides a foil to Frantz Fanon’s widely publicized reactionary articulations of the relationship between colonialism and psychiatry. Black Skin, White Coats is also on the cutting edge of histories of psychiatry that are increasingly drawing connections between local and national developments in late-colonial and postcolonial settings and international scientific networks. Heaton argues that Nigerian psychiatrists were intimately aware of the need to engage in international discourses as part and parcel of the transformation of psychiatry at home.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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Somatosphere Review of Cohen-Cole’s The Open Mind

The blog Somatosphere has posted a review of Jamie Cohen-Cole’s The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature. The book is described on the publisher’s website as follows,

The Open Mind chronicles the development and promulgation of a scientific vision of the rational, creative, and autonomous self, demonstrating how this self became a defining feature of Cold War culture. Jamie Cohen-Cole illustrates how from 1945 to 1965 policy makers and social critics used the idea of an open-minded human nature to advance centrist politics. They reshaped intellectual culture and instigated nationwide educational reform that promoted more open, and indeed more human, minds. The new field of cognitive science was central to this project, as it used popular support for open-mindedness to overthrow the then-dominant behaviorist view that the mind either could not be studied scientifically or did not exist. Cognitive science also underwrote the political implications of the open mind by treating it as the essential feature of human nature.

Continue reading Somatosphere Review of Cohen-Cole’s The Open Mind

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Somatosphere Review: Nicolas Langlitz’s Neuropsychedelia

Head on over to the blog Somatosphere for a review of Nicolas Langlitz’s recent book, Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research Since the Decade of the Brain. The volume is described on the publisher’s website as an examination of

the revival of psychedelic science since the “Decade of the Brain.” After the breakdown of this previously prospering area of psychopharmacology, and in the wake of clashes between counterculture and establishment in the late 1960s, a new generation of hallucinogen researchers used the hype around the neurosciences in the 1990s to bring psychedelics back into the mainstream of science and society. This book is based on anthropological fieldwork and philosophical reflections on life and work in two laboratories that have played key roles in this development: a human lab in Switzerland and an animal lab in California. It sheds light on the central transnational axis of the resurgence connecting American psychedelic culture with the home country of LSD. In the borderland of science and religion, Neuropsychedelia explores the tensions between the use of hallucinogens to model psychoses and to evoke spiritual experiences in laboratory settings. Its protagonists, including the anthropologist himself, struggle to find a place for the mystical under conditions of late-modern materialism.

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