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Review of "Malignant Sadness"

By Lewis Wolpert
Free Press, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Feb 22nd 2000
Malignant Sadness

Lewis Wolpert, a British medical biologist, suffered a period of severe depression several years ago. He found it the worst experience of his life. His book is a summary of the history of ideas about depression and the most recent scientific research. In less than 200 pages, Wolpert does an excellent job of explaining and integrating a number of different approaches to both understanding and treating one of the most serious problems people face.

While the author does describe his own encounter with depression, he does so briefly. This is not primarily a memoir or even an exploration of the personal aspect of the experience. Rather, it sets out the statistics, evolutionary psychology, psychodynamics, biology, and psychiatry of depression. The book ends with discussion of the view of depression in other cultures and the future of the role of depression in our society.

Wolpert's writing is admirably clear. He manages to summarize scientific data simply yet not simplistically. Furthermore, he condenses the information down to the essential points -- most of the fourteen chapters are 10-15 pages long, and some are even shorter. So Malignant Sadness is a sympathetic and balanced introduction to the topic of depression. It stays away from the more philosophical questions covered by Listening to Prozac, and it does not offer the same kind of detailed information and advice as Overcoming Depression or the many other popular psychology books on mood disorders. But it will undoubtedly be useful to many readers.

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