Category Archives: Books

Materials of the Mind: Phrenology, Race, and the Global History of Science, 1815-1920

A new book describing the global history of phrenology may interest AHP readers. Materials of the Mind: Phrenology, Race, and the Global History of Science, 1815-1920 by James Poskett is described as follows:

Phrenology was the most popular mental science of the Victorian age. From American senators to Indian social reformers, this new mental science found supporters around the globe. Materials of the Mind tells the story of how phrenology changed the world—and how the world changed phrenology.
 
This is a story of skulls from the Arctic, plaster casts from Haiti, books from Bengal, and letters from the Pacific. Drawing on far-flung museum and archival collections, and addressing sources in six different languages, Materials of the Mind is an impressively innovative account of science in the nineteenth century as part of global history. It shows how the circulation of material culture underpinned the emergence of a new materialist philosophy of the mind, while also demonstrating how a global approach to history can help us reassess issues such as race, technology, and politics today.

On the Heels of Ignorance: Psychiatry and the Politics of Not Knowing

AHP readers may be interested in a new book from University of Chicago Press: On the Heels of Ignorance: Psychiatry and the Politics of Not Knowing by Owen Whooley. The book is described as follows:

Psychiatry has always aimed to peer deep into the human mind, daring to cast light on its darkest corners and untangle its thorniest knots, often invoking the latest medical science in doing so. But, as Owen Whooley’s sweeping new book tells us, the history of American psychiatry is really a record of ignorance. On the Heels of Ignorance begins with psychiatry’s formal inception in the 1840s and moves through two centuries of constant struggle simply to define and redefine mental illness, to say nothing of the best way to treat it. Whooley’s book is no antipsychiatric screed, however; instead, he reveals a field that has muddled through periodic reinventions and conflicting agendas of curiosity, compassion, and professional striving. On the Heels of Ignorance draws from intellectual history and the sociology of professions to portray an ongoing human effort to make sense of complex mental phenomena using an imperfect set of tools, with sometimes tragic results.

The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business

AHP readers may be interested in a recent book on the history of addiction. The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business by David T. Courtwright. Courtwright was also just interviewed by Lucas Richert on a recent episode of the New Books Network podcast series.

The book is described as follows:

We live in an age of addiction, from compulsive gaming and shopping to binge eating and opioid abuse. Sugar can be as habit-forming as cocaine, researchers tell us, and social media apps are hooking our kids. But what can we do to resist temptations that insidiously and deliberately rewire our brains? Nothing, David Courtwright says, unless we understand the history and character of the global enterprises that create and cater to our bad habits.

The Age of Addiction chronicles the triumph of what Courtwright calls “limbic capitalism,” the growing network of competitive businesses targeting the brain pathways responsible for feeling, motivation, and long-term memory. We see its success in Purdue Pharma’s pain pills, in McDonald’s engineered burgers, and in Tencent video games from China. All capitalize on the ancient quest to discover, cultivate, and refine new and habituating pleasures. The business of satisfying desire assumed a more sinister aspect with the rise of long-distance trade, plantation slavery, anonymous cities, large corporations, and sophisticated marketing. Multinational industries, often with the help of complicit governments and criminal organizations, have multiplied and cheapened seductive forms of brain reward, from junk food to pornography. The internet has brought new addictions: in 2018, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its International Classification of Diseases.

Courtwright holds out hope that limbic capitalism can be contained by organized opposition from across the political spectrum. Progressives, nationalists, and traditionalists have made common cause against the purveyors of addiction before. They could do it again.

The Pleasure Shock: The Rise of Deep Brain Stimulation and Its Forgotten Inventor

AHP readers may be interested in a recently published book from science writer Lone Frank: “The Pleasure Shock: The Rise of Deep Brain Stimulation and Its Forgotten Inventor.” The book is described by its publisher as follows:

The technology invented by psychiatrist Robert G. Heath in the 1950s and ’60s has been described as among the most controversial experiments in US history. His work was alleged at the time to be part of MKUltra, the CIA’s notorious “mind control” project. His research subjects included incarcerated convicts and gay men who wished to be “cured” of their sexual preference. Yet his cutting-edge research and legacy were quickly buried deep in Tulane University’s archives. Investigative science journalist Lone Frank now tells the complete sage of this passionate, determined doctor and his groundbreaking neuroscience.

More than fifty years after Heath’s experiments, this very same treatment is becoming mainstream practice in modern psychiatry for everything from schizophrenia, anorexia, and compulsive behavior to depression, Parkinson’s, and even substance addiction.

Lone Frank uncovered lost documents and accounts of Heath’s trailblazing work. She tracked down surviving colleagues and patients, and she delved into the current support for deep brain stimulation by scientists and patients alike. What has changed? Why do we today unquestioningly embrace this technology as a cure? How do we decide what is a disease of the brain to be cured and what should be allowed to remain unrobed and unprodded? And how do we weigh the decades of criticism against the promise of treatment that could be offered to millions of patients?

Elegantly written and deeply fascinating, The Pleasure Shock weaves together biography, scientific history, and medical ethics. It is an adventure into our ever-shifting views of the mind and the fateful power we wield when we tinker with the self.