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Malignant Sadness

New or Used: $25.95
New or Used: $25.95
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About the Author

Lewis Wolpert is a distinguished embryologist and an accomplished broadcaster. He is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine at University College, London, and has taken part in numerous radio programmes, particularly interviews with other scientists. A CBE and a Fellow of the Royal Society, he was chairman of the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science for four years.He is the author of A Passion for Science and Passionate Minds (with Alison Richards), and The Triumph of the Embryo. For Faber, he has written The Unnatural Nature of Science: 'I can think of no book which explains science better or more vigorously to the layman. Professor Wolpert's prose is clear, direct, and euphonious; it seems almost unfair that he should be an eminent scientist as well.' (Spectator).


When Wolpert, a British biologist, suffered sudden and severe depression, he recovered with antidepressants and cognitive therapy. Here he outlines theories of causation and current therapies. In agreement with most researchers, he argues that depression happens when an individual with a genetic predisposition to depression experiences stress or loss. Peter Kramer's Listening to Prozac (LJ 5/1/93) explained this relationship much more thoughtfully, but Wolpert doesn't seem to have read it. All the same, Wolpert is at his best when summarizing the physical aspects of depression, no small feat given the complexities. His chapter on depression in other cultures is unique and interesting, and his final advice to fellow sufferers--to start with cognitive therapy and progress to antidepressants only if necessary--has a definite British bias. While this advice is certainly supported by outcome studies that consistently find the two treatment modes to be of equal efficacy, the U.S. healthcare system (and the American predilection for quick, "pill-based" cures) often ensures the reverse pattern. Most public libraries seem to need a steady supply of titles on depression, and this is recommended as the latest general treatise on the subject.--Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Depression is to sadness what cancer is to normal cell division, says Wolpert, a British biologist. Hence "malignant sadness," or depression, is sadness gone out of control. Unfortunately, this primer on depression for sufferers and those who care about them is for the most part as dry and clinical as a medical textbook. After an all-too-brief and moving description of his own experience with "malignant sadness," Wolpert takes a brief walk through medicine's knowledge of depression, then embarks on a detailed discussion of how depression is defined in the psychiatric handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In two provocative chapters, Wolpert discusses whether depression is a malady specific to the West, or whether it is found in all societies around the world (in general, his answer is that it exists in non-Western cultures but that there it tends to be expressed in physical rather than emotional symptoms). In a very thorough but dull chapter on who is susceptible to depression, he rattles off the results of study after study with little examination; some of the findings are familiar (women are more susceptible to depression than men, depression is to a large extent hereditary), others less so (postpartum depression has been found in cultures as different as Malaysia, Japan and Brazil). Wolpert does a thorough job of presenting all the important topics, from the biological roots of depression to its various treatments and their effectiveness, but much of this material is covered with more grace and warmth by Peter Kramer in Listening to Prozac and in Peter Whybrow's A Mood Apart. Agent, Anne Engel. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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