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Mind Fixers

Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness


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Mind Fixers tells the history of psychiatry’s quest to understand the biological basis of mental illness and asks where we need to go from here.

In this “masterpiece... the preeminent historian of neuroscience” (Science) explores psychiatry’s frustrated efforts to understand mental disorders as medical disorders. Anne Harrington reveals how psychiatry’s waxing and waning theories have been shaped, not just by developments in the clinic and laboartory, but also by a surprising range of social factors. The “enthralling Mind Fixers” (Nature) recounts the past and present undertaking to understand the biological basis of mental illness—its potential and its limitations—in order to lay the groundwork for creating a better future, both for those who suffer and those whose job it is to care for them.


“A tale of promising roads that turned out to be dead ends, of treatments that seemed miraculous in their day but barbaric in retrospect, of public-health policies that were born in hope but destined for disaster... Of value to historians of medicine.” — The Atlantic

“By charting our fluctuating beliefs about our own minds, Harrington effectively tells a story about the twentieth century itself.” — The New Yorker

“Rosenhan’s study exemplifies much of what went wrong in twentieth-century psychiatry, as biologists, psychoanalysts and sociologists struggled for supremacy. Science historian Anne Harrington takes us through the painful history of that struggle in the enthralling Mind Fixers, which focuses particularly on the United States.” — Nature

“…often shocking but admirably fair and level-headed history…” — Simon Ings, New Scientist

“Superb… nuanced… In Mind Fixers, Anne Harrington has written an excellent, engaging guide to what biological psychiatry has accomplished—and not accomplished—so far.” — Richard J. McNally, The Wall Street Journal

“The story Harrington tells is one of push-and-pull, back-and-forth… Intricate and winding, though her prose remains clear and crisp.” — Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

“A laudable venture, in which Harrington’s intellectual precision and exacting research cannot be faulted.” — Helen Thompson, The New York Times Book Review

“Masterful… Harrington’s grasp of this story and the clarity with which, with limited moralism, she delivers a tale about the ‘big picture’ of psychiatry and neurology is emblematic of the historian’s craft.” — Stephen T. Casper, Science

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