A magisterial tale of the always frustrating yet sometimes well-intentioned efforts to aid desperate people.



A comprehensive history of American psychiatry.

A longtime professor of sociology, Scull brings a lifetime of scholarship to bear on this authoritative and sobering book. Characteristically critical but nevertheless decently evenhanded, he tells the long story of usually failed efforts to deal with mental illness in the U.S. since the end of the Civil War. In the author’s telling, that reality seems to have brought out the worst in too many of those who thought they held the keys to ending the suffering of those with mental health disorders. Their approaches—among them asylums and then release to the streets with no further assistance; crackpot “medical” remedies like tooth-pulling and inoculation with malaria and insulin; lobotomies; electric shock treatment—were often repugnant and morally indefensible, and most of them applied disproportionately and involuntarily to women, the poor, and African Americans. Many “experts” who claimed to know how to treat the “baffling collection of disorders” that constitute mental illness were amateurs, scoundrels, and con artists who often talked about their patients as biologically degenerate and inferior. When, following Freud, more serious practitioners came on the scene, they also often acted in bad faith. Scull, who pulls no punches in his often muckraking account, can be accused of excessive harshness toward only a small number of his cast of characters; few deserve to emerge intact from his evidence-based lashings. Yet he also lays out the obstacles that all practitioners in the field have faced as successive methods of treatments—Freudian analysis, talk therapy, and medication—have come into vogue and then retreated. Most importantly, the author omits nothing related to his subject: Medicare and Medicaid, insurance companies, psychopharmacology, big pharma, financial and economic considerations, and, in a particularly brilliant section, the battle over diagnostic precision. Because Scull’s crisis-to-crisis history is so impeccable, it’s also deeply troubling.

A magisterial tale of the always frustrating yet sometimes well-intentioned efforts to aid desperate people.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-674-26510-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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