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Mad in America    by Robert Whitaker order for
Mad in America
by Robert Whitaker
Order:  USA  Can
Perseus, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Before we begin, a few words about the author. Whitaker has written about the drug industry, and the treatment of the mentally ill, for a variety of publications. He's won numerous awards, including the George Polk award. A series of newspaper articles, to which he contributed, was a finalist for a 1998 Pulitzer Prize. It's worth keeping his credentials in mind, because he's got some things to say that, if they came from less qualified writers, might seem a tad ... well, fearmongering.

Schizophrenics, Whitaker tells us, are treated so poorly in the United States that third-world countries actually look better by comparison. A staggering lack of understanding of the causes of mental illness led, in the U.S., to such 'treatments' as lobotomies, electrical shocks, and a battery of immensely dangerous drugs. But, thank goodness, all that's in the past. Nowadays, we know how to identify ailments and treat them efficiently and compassionately. That's what you think ...

According to Whitaker, modern-day treatment of the mentally ill is, in its own way, as barbaric and (in many cases) useless as the treatments of yesteryear. We use drugs manufactured by companies that doctored their testing results, we rely on the 'expertise' of pseudo-scientists who cash paychecks made out by the drug companies, we make people worse while we pretend to cure them.

This is a troubling book; deeply troubling. Whitaker takes great pains to document everything (he used a variety of documents, patient records, and interviews in his research), but this doesn't make the things he's saying any easier to take. It's the kind of book you read, sit there and think about, and find yourself hoping that the guy who wrote it was completely loopy.

But Whitaker doesn't sound loopy. He sounds like he knows what he's talking about. He could have made the book a little less stodgy - it reads too often like a textbook, or a scholarly article - but that's a pretty minor quibble. Mad in America will give you a lot of new things to think about.

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