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Mind Fixers: Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness

In Mind Fixers: Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness, historian of science Anne Harrington illuminates a complicated history that has had profound, if not entirely recognized, effects on American culture.

Mind Fixers is organized into three parts. The first is a comprehensive history of the profession of psychiatry from the 1870s to the 1970s, with its incredible breakthroughs, professional rivalries and dubious practices. Harrington deepens the nonlinear nature of this history in the second part of the book by focusing on psychiatry's attempts to understand and treat three different illnesses--schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder--in biomedical terms.

In part three, Harrington shows that the 1980s marked a turning point, as the discipline's "biological revolutionaries" shook off the grip of lingering Freudian ideologies and took the discipline firmly in the direction of neuroscience, biochemistry and--of course--drugs. But, Harrington argues, this "optimistic biological psychiatry" unraveled in the 1990s and 2000s, in part because the profession's relationship with the pharmaceutical industry became increasingly problematic and, even more importantly, consistent biological bases for mental illness have remained elusive.

Deeply researched and thoughtfully organized, Mind Fixers is far from a myopic, academic slog. Instead, Harrington--with the rigor of a scholar, the drive of a reformer and the benefit of an outsider's perspective--cracks the insular discipline of psychiatry open, confronts its sometimes dark history and connects its professional identity issues to policies and campaigns that have played major roles in the lives of Americans since the 19th century. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor