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    A noted neurologist challenges the widespread misunderstanding of brain disease and mental illness.

    How the Brain Lost Its Mind tells the rich and compelling story of two confounding ailments, syphilis and hysteria, and the extraordinary efforts to confront their effects on mental life. How does the mind work? Where does madness lie, in the brain or in the mind? How should it be treated?

    Throughout the 19th century, syphilis - a disease of mad poets, musicians, and artists - swept through the highest and lowest rungs of European society like a plague. Known as "the Great Imitator", it could produce almost any form of mental or physical illness, and it would bring down a host of famous and infamous characters - among them Guy de Maupassant, Vincent van Gogh, the Marquis de Sade, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Al Capone. It was the first truly psychiatric disease and it filled asylums to overflowing. At the same time, an outbreak of bizarre behaviors resembling epilepsy, but with no identifiable source in the body, strained the diagnostic skills of the great neurologists. It was referred to as hysteria. 

    For more than a century, neurosyphilis stood out as the archetype of a brain-based mental illness, fully understood but largely forgotten, and today far from gone. Hysteria, under many different names, remains unexplained and epidemic. These two conditions stand at opposite poles of the current debate over the role of the brain in mental illness. Hysteria led Freud to insert sex into psychology. Neurosyphilis led to the proliferation of mental institutions. The problem of managing the inmates led to the abuse of lobotomy and electroshock therapy, and ultimately the overuse of psychotropic drugs.

    Today, we know that syphilitic madness was a destructive disease of the brain while hysteria and, more broadly, many varieties of mental illness reside solely in the mind. Or do they? Afflictions once written off as "hysterical" continue to elude explanation. Addiction, alcoholism, autism, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, depression, and sociopathy, though regarded as brain-based, have not been proven to be so. 

    In this audio, the authors raise a host of philosophical and practical questions. What is the difference between a sick mind and a sick brain? If we understood everything about the brain, would we understand ourselves? By delving into an overlooked history, this book shows how neuroscience and brain scans alone cannot account for a robust mental life, or a deeply disturbed one.

    ©2019 Allan H. Ropper and Brian Burrell (P)2019 Penguin Audio


    “This aptly titled book picks up where Oliver Sacks left off in examining the behavioral characteristics of neurobehavioral syndromes in an effort to span the gap that has historically separated the twin disciplines of the brain, neurology, and psychiatry. In contrasting the organic (general paresis of the insane) with the ethereal (hysteria), this neuropsychiatric treatise brings the two divergent disciplines closer together without committing to their ultimate unification.” (Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons; Past President of the American Psychiatric Association; author of Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry)

    "Occasionally, a treatise arrives that challenges conventional reductionist notions that brain and mind can be unified through the neuroscience of the brain. Current brain analysis via brain scans, neural networks, genomic analysis, and psychopharmacology has not seduced Ropper and Burrell, who take the contrarian position that there is a subjective mental life that organizes itself. In an unusually readable and surprisingly lyrical account of syphilis, a surrogate for mental disorders caused by brain destruction, and hysteria, a stand-in for psychiatric disorders, they create a fascinating tension between neurology and psychiatry and offer thoughts on unifying the two fields of clinical medicine. Their original interpretations of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus alone makes the book worth reading as literary criticism." (Joseph B. Martin, MD, PhD, Dean Emeritus, Harvard Medical School)

    “A sweeping narrative of how the concept of mental illness evolved in the context of culture, history, and science. How the Brain Lost its Mind is written with wit and wisdom, and filled with vividly depicted colorful characters from Freud to Maupassant to the Marquis de Sade, from the physicians of nineteenth century Europe to the public health commissioners of 1930s New York. Ropper and Burrell trace the riveting history of the science of the mind and brain, revealing how and why neurology and psychiatry split, and how the future of medicine depends on their reunification.” (Aaron Berkowitz, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School; author of Clinical Neurology and Neuroanatomy and The Improvising Mind)

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    • Carri Moser Camp
    • 24/08/2019

    This should be required reading for neurology

    A special Thank you to Deepak Chopra for sharing this on your blog. This helps to identify how mental health developed. Don't get distracted by the fact it's syphilis research. It explains how our mental health system is misguided. I read 'Reaching down the rabbit hole.' Another awesome book about our brains. A very misunderstood, mismanaged entity of our broken health care system. XXOO Well done much needed:)