Great Discoveries in Psychiatry

Ronald Chase

ISBN 978-3-8325-5347-0
225 pages, year of publication: 2021
price: 34.00 €
Great Discoveries in Psychiatry
"If this book were retitled as Blood, Brain, Sex, and Drugs: A Confronting History of Psychiatric Treatment, I would definitely buy it at an airport and read it on the plane. This is an outstanding and comprehensive study, and it's readable without being simplistic. It's also critical and honest, rather than being a catalogue of Great Men and Great Moments... Chase raises a multitude of talking and thinking points: for example, was ‘moral treatment’ at the York Lunatic Asylum more effective than the customary beating and chaining which preceded it? How do we know? What constituted a ‘cure’ in the 18th century? ... Chase's chapter on epigenetics and the apparently non-existent ‘schizophrenia gene’ is terrific. Chapter 7 on autism, Asperger's and Nazism is excellent: both sensitive and critical, but unflinching... The later chapters are terrific: endophenotypes, the brain and theory of mind, the development of neuroplastic theory, and electricity and the brain (including a history of transcranial magnetic stimulation)... I loved the chapter on psychiatric classification. Chase describes the problematic relationship between schizophrenia (or the schizophrenias) and bipolar disorder (or the bipolar disorders). He also presents current solutions, including the transdiagnostic approach." Philippa Martyr, Australasian Psychiatry

"I’m sure anyone interested in the history of psychiatry will enjoy this book... It has fifteen chapters, each telling in engaging detail the events and people involved in most of the landmark discoveries in our discipline. This is robust narrative history, with each discovery presented within its relevant context (both professional and social) but paying close attention to the personalities and quirks of the key individuals before rounding up with Chase’s ‘perspective’ on its impact... Chase is scholarly and thorough, without being prolix or pedantic. The odd ‘folksy’ turn of phrase attests to his commitment to widening public awareness of these important events but doesn’t jar or get in the way of clear descriptions of complex issues... A particularly enjoyable feature of this book are the wonderful (and well chosen) photographs that pepper the chapters... The style is engaging and allows for different levels of familiarity with the material, and individual chapters are brief and vivid." Tom Burns, Newsletter of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ History of Psychiatry Special Interest Group, Issue 14, Spring 2022

"Great Discoveries in Psychiatry presents a history of the discipline through various discoveries, but it is anything but the anticipated staid survey. Readers should expect a healthy dose of science as well as history. Details of the various social, political, and scientific influences are presented using lively language and unexpected associations that encourage readers to think not just about psychiatry's evolution as a discipline, but also the diverse paths to discovery and change. ... Chase's ability to cultivate a winning, lively tone in a study that could all too easily have been dry and fact-laden instead of fact-inspired sets Great Discoveries in Psychiatry apart from other histories. It deserves a place as a foundation read in not just mental health collections, but for general-interest readers who will find its special blend of scholarship and investigative insights just the right formula for an accessible, inviting read." D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review

Contents: Everyone knows about the celebrated discoveries in physical medicine, yet few people can name a single discovery in psychiatry. This book fills the gap by recounting the paths taken to fifteen breakthroughs in psychiatry.

Told here are stories of how an Australian psychiatrist single-handedly discovered an effective medication for mania and why it was never patented; what an eighteenth century physician found beneath the skull of patients residing at a hospital where the infamous Marquis de Sade staged plays; the eery X-rays that revealed the first biomarker for schizophrenia; how magnetic resonance imaging detects damaged nerve bundles by tracking water molecules in the brain; what a pig slaughterhouse contributed to the treatment of depression. And much more.

Taken in their entirety, the chapters cover all or most of the major topics in psychiatry, namely care and treatment, diagnostics, biomarkers, and neuroscience. They follow a rough chronological order beginning around the year 1800 and continuing right through to the present.

Deeply researched and fully referenced, the language is non-technical. Sixty-six illustrations accompany the text. This book will help people understand where psychiatry has come from and where it is likely headed.

Ronald Chase is Professor Emeritus at McGill University, Montréal. He was educated at Stanford University (A.B. Psychology) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Ph.D. Psychology). After postdoctoral training at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, and the University of Washington, he taught neurobiology in the Department of Biology at McGill University. He is the author of more than eighty peer-reviewed research articles. Previous books are "Behavior and its Neural Control in Gastropod Molluscs", "The Physical Basis of Mental Illness", "Schizophrenia: A Brother Finds Answers in Biological Science", and "The Making of Modern Psychiatry".

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Table of contents (PDF)

Preview (PDF)


  • Psychiatry
  • History of Psychiatry
  • Diagnostics
  • Neuroscience
  • Discoveries


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