September 17, 1997

A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac

Author Affiliations

University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA School of Medicine


by Edward Shorter, 436 pp, with illus, $30, ISBN 0-471-15749-X, New York, NY, John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

JAMA. 1997;278(11):949-950. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550110087045

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The bookstalls are full of books about psychiatry. Some are interesting. Some are dull. And some make the mistake of imagining that political advocacy, pseudoscience, metaphysics, or fanaticism offer a better approach to understanding mental illness than studying the brain. Thus, when an eminent social historian writes a book entitled A History of Psychiatry, one opens the pages expecting a rational, evidence-based, and well-argued look into psychiatry past and present. Edward Shorter, the Hannah Professor in the History of Medicine at the University of Toronto, has not disappointed us. He has used his considerable intellectual and writing talents to develop a nonapologetic revision of psychiatry from the 18th century to the era of Prozac.

His story begins by chronicling changes in the asylums of the 18th century which, during the early years of the century, were little more than jails for the insane. With the unchaining of