Bipolar Book Reviews

The following are my personal reviews of books on bipolar disorder and depression aimed at the general reader. There is a section for new releases.

Mind Fixers: Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness Anne Harrington: Mind Fixers: Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness."
A fascinating history of the development of psychiatry over the past 150 years. The author tells the story from both the perspective of the profession and also that of the major psychiatric diseases. For example, in the history of schizophrenia, the author introduces us to the significant role of LSD in the acceptance of biological factors in the cause of mental illness. She also includes the effect of grassroots advocacy organizations in combating the establishment view of schizophrenogenic mothers. We read of the role of Big Pharma and of the biological approach to mental illness that arose in reaction to the Freudians but ultimately that disappoints too. The book leaves us somewhat depressed. We have some medications, most of them discovered in the 1950s, but there's little incentive to develop more. And the profession looks due for another reorg.

Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry Jeffrey A. Lieberman, "Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry."
Jeffrey Lieberman, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association, has written this book about the history of psychiatry—and it's a page-turner—in itself a stunning achievement. He tells us of the battle between the Freudians and the biology-based psychiatrists, a battle only finally resolved in 1980 at the shoot-out for the DSM III. The first psychoactive medication that allowed psychiatrists to do anything beyond talk therapy was only discovered less than five years before I was born. Before then it was luck and leeches. Psychiatry is a profession that has undergone profound changes within our lifetime and this book offers insight and tells the story in a very readable account. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the treatment of mental illness.

The Bipolar Workbook: Tools for Controlling Your Mood Swings Monica Ramirez Basco, "The Bipolar Workbook: Tools for Controlling Your Mood Swings."
Research has recently demonstrated that learning illness self-management, in addition to medication, can significantly improve the quality of life for anyone with bipolar disorder. Here at last is a practical guide to illness self-management. It includes many exercises that will help you chart your moods, discover your early warning signs, avoid behavior likely to lead to episodes, and examine possible denial. Methods of illness self-management like these, together with medication, have helped me avoid further manic episodes. I most heartily welcome this book and urge you to consider using it on your own, with your therapist, or in a group. It could change your life.

Bipolar 101 Ruth C. White and John D. Preston, "Bipolar 101: A Practical Guide to Identifying Triggers, Managing Medications, Coping with Symptoms and More."
An excellent book on the practical aspects of day-to-day coping with bipolar disorder. This book is a good choice on first hearing of the diagnosis. The advice comes first hand as Dr. White herself learned to cope with bipolar disorder. It covers the fundamental issues of getting treatment, taking medication, identifying triggers, reducing stress, getting good sleep and more. I am particularly pleased to see education emphasized along with medication and psychotherapy as one of the "three strategies of treatment." We have come a long way since the dark ages of mental illness. Books like this help us to continue that progress.

Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families Francis Mark Mondimore, "Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families."
A very informative book for patients and their families. It starts with a detailed discussion of the symptoms and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. It covers all of the most common medications and their side effects. The history of the development of our understanding of the disorder is covered together with a little of the genetics behind the disorder. There is a brief discussion of what is understood of the effect of the disorder within the brain. The final chapters give advice on how to live with the disorder and best reduce the chance and the effect of further episodes. This is the patient's handbook that I most highly recommend.

The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide David J. Miklowitz "The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide."
Books on bipolar disorder tend either to be an autobiography of someone's struggle or a medical discussion of the illness and its symptoms. Here is a book written by a medical practitioner that investigates the issues that one faces if one is diagnosed with the disorder and explains practical techniques to cope with the symptoms. It goes beyond, "What is bipolar?" to investigate, "Okay, so what can I do about it?" It looks at the issues involved in accepting the diagnosis. It not only looks at what medication can achieve but also at what it takes to accept ongoing medication. It spends a lot of time discussing techniques for self-management: recognizing one's own mood swings and methods for coping with them. It concludes with a discussion of the effect on the family and on work situations. I highly recommend this book to anyone diagnosed bipolar or who has a family member with bipolar disorder. It is one of the few practical guides to coping with the illness.

Surviving Manic Depression: A Manual on Bipolar Disorder for Patients, Families, and Providers E. Fuller Torrey, Michael B. Knable, "Surviving Manic Depression: A Manual on Bipolar Disorder for Patients, Families, and Providers."
An excellent and informative book on bipolar disorder. It summarizes the facts of the disorder that are well established by scientific evidence. It focuses on treatment by medication as it is the author's opinion that not everyone with bipolar disorder requires treatment with psychotherapy in addition to medication. The discussion of modern drugs is thorough. Practical issues such as finding a good doctor and insurance issues (in the United States) are also covered. There is a discussion of bipolar disorder in children and also a brief review of scientific evidence for the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity. An appendix features an excellent book review in which Fuller reviews some 67 books on bipolar disorder and depression. He spends a paragraph on each book and is not afraid to state plainly his opinion on those that he feels have shortcomings.

The Noonday Demon Andrew Solomon, "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression"
An encyclopedic work on depression stretching well beyond most works on this difficult subject. It contains the author's experience of and reflections on depression, and the stories of many others in different walks of life, but contains much more. From the ancient Greeks, whose theory of black bile, "melania chole," gives us the word melancholia, to the depression of trauma survivors in Cambodia. From treatment offered by the ancients to current mainstream and alternative treatments. From depression among the poor and indigent to the politics of depression and its representation in Congress. A comprehensive, beautifully written work.

I Am Not Sick I Don't Need Help! Xavier Amador with Anna-Lisa Johanson, "I Am Not Sick I Don't Need Help!"
A readable and very practical book focused on the issue of helping a mentally-ill loved one who has little insight into their illness. Dr. Amador presents recent research into the issue of poor insight and then offers practical, step-by-step advice on how to help your mentally-ill loved one accept treatment. His advice comes both from many years spent as a mental health professional and also from personal experience with his brother who has schizophrenia.

An Unquiet Mind Kay Redfield Jamison, "An Unquiet Mind."
The classic autobiography of bipolar disorder by a professor of psychiatry who is herself bipolar.

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness William Styron, "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness."
A nationally acclaimed author describes the indescribable—an episode of acute depression. He recalls in beautiful prose the anguish and the isolation of the abyss. Those of us who have travelled this road will find much that we recognize and gain comfort from a fellow traveller who describes the journey with a skill beyond our own. Those who haven't may perhaps get a taste of that foreign county.

Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Jeff Bell, "Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder."
Radio news anchor Jeff Bell descries his battle to overcome obsessive-compuslive disorder in this engaging and very readable memoir. Regardless of one's own journey through The Valley it can be difficult to understand the challenges faced by those with a different diagnosis. This book helped me better understand obsessive-compulsive disorder and it's a good read too.

A Mood Apart Peter C. Whybrow, "A Mood Apart: The Thinker's Guide to Emotion and Its Disorders"
The author interweaves the personal stories of people suffering from mood disorders, mostly bipolar disorder and depression, with the neurobiology behind the cause of the symptoms in the brain of the sufferer. Occasionally a little technical for the lay reader, but an excellent viewpoint from which to present what we know of the processes in the brain that give rise to mood disorder and the working of the medications used in their treatment.

Book: Mood Genes Samuel H. Barondes, "Mood Genes: Hunting for the Origins of Mania and Depression"
The author skilfully makes a story of scientific research read like a detective novel, almost a page-turner at times. To tell the story he gives us a history of the scientific progress in understanding mood disorders. He continues with a very readable introduction to genetics and heredity with examples of diseases whose genetic basis is now understood. Finally, he gives us a glimpse of how scientific research is conducted and how far we have progressed in locating the genes responsible for the mood disorders, bipolar disorder and depression. A thoroughly engrossing read for anyone with an interest in the genetic basis of mood disorders.

Book: Brave New Brain Nancy C. Andreasen, "Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of The Genome"
In this wide-ranging book the author presents the neuroscience behind the major mental illnesses in (mostly) language accessible by the lay reader. An introduction to the structure of the brain is presented together with elementary genetics. From there we move on to explore what is known of how the brain can go wrong, and the role of genetics, in the major mental illnesses. A good introduction to the illnesses is given: schizophrenia, mood disorders, dementias and anxiety disorders. The biological basis of mental illness is highlighted with examples of brain scans from normal and ill subjects. The author does well in tackling such a wide and technical subject, yet making it relevant for the general reader, though we are left feeling that so much more about mental illness and the brain remains to be understood.

My Stroke of Insight Jill Bolte Taylor, "My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey"
The author, a brain scientist, describes her own experience of recovery from a stroke that completely disabled the left side of her brain. A very readable book that offers a remarkable insight into the inner workings of the brain and casts light on the recovery process. While a stoke is a very different brain trauma than bipolar disorder, similarities of experience are evident in both the loss of functionality and in the recovery process.

The Mind: A User's Guide Raj Persaud (Editor), "The Mind: A User's Guide"
An excellent handbook for the general reader from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the United Kingdom. It discusses all of the more common disorders of the mind and many of those less common. Each chapter is contributed by an expert on the illness discussed and begins with a brief story of a typical case. Most chapters share a common format including "What is it?" What does it feel like?" "What can be done to help?" "Self-help" and "Tips for families and friends." Each chapter concludes with a list of support organizations, websites and further reading. Later chapters discuss more general problems such as: alcohol, domestic violence, caring, therapies and medication. The writing is lucid and accessible, unnecessary technical terms are avoided and the focus is on practical assistance. I highly recommend this book for libraries, support organizations and anyone that needs a broad view of current mental health diagnoses and issues.

Madness on the Couch Edward Dolnick, "Madness on the Couch: Blaming the victim in the heyday of psychoanalysis."
"The behavior of the analysts…was not simply that they kicked patients when they were down. Even worse, they first knocked patients (or their parents) to the ground, by blaming them for having caused their own illness, and then they kicked them." The author examines psychoanalysis in the 1950s and 60s when it was applied as a treatment for serious mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, autism and obsessive compulsive disorder. Well written, very readable and very frightening. At least in the days of leaches, the leaches were occasionally helpful…

Friends and Family Bipolar Survival Guide Debra and Mark Meehl, "Friends and Family Bipolar Survival Guide"
A useful guide for anyone that cares for or lives with someone with bipolar disorder. It is full of practical advice and information based on the author's experience of living with her bipolar husband. Not everyone with bipolar disorder experiences the illness the same way, so not everything will apply. Personally, I would like to see more emphasis on education and less on spirituality, but these are my own preferences. A useful book on the day-to-day matters of living with and helping someone with bipolar disorder.

The Naked Bird Watcher Suzy Johnston, "The Naked Bird Watcher."
Suzy's autobiography is well-written, engaging, and very readable. She records her struggle with depression and its treatment as a young person. I found it easy to identify with her experience of depression. I recommend this book for anyone currently engaged in the struggle — it will offer insight, give assurance that they are not alone, and encourage the hope that if Suzy got through so can they.
See Suzy's website for further reviews. She has also written about her bipolar journey in the British Medical Journal.
In addition, Suzy's mother has published her side of the story in caring for her daughter in "To Walk on Eggshells" by Jean Johnston.

Invisible Driving Alistair McHarg, "Invisible Driving"
Invisible driving is a memoir of a manic episode told from the perspective of the manic individual. At times the voice of the narrator appears to assist the reader's understanding and put the thoughts, feelings and events in perspective. The book is very well written and the story engaging so as to maintain the reader's interest in the outcome. Most personal accounts of madness reflect on the journey from a safe distance. This book takes you through insanity as it was experienced. I admire the skill and courage of the author in doing so but it might not be a journey for everyone. If you have been there yourself, this book may help you recognize mania and determine to confront it. If you haven't, it may help you empathise with those of us who now tread carefully.

On the Outside Looking In Jody M. Ehrhardt, "On the Outside Looking In."
This book is about a 12 year old boy who has bipolar disorder. The mother wrote the book about their daily struggles with this disorder. I loved the book because it was very raw. The author did not gloss over their daily struggles, she was honest about their mistakes and frustrations, she opened up their daily lives in a very vulnerable way and she included humor when she could find it. My grand-daughter is bipolar and this book moved me to tears, made me laugh and moved me to call her. I have read other books, trying to understand my grand-daughter, and I was always left feeling informed medically but lost personally. This book brought the personal side of the illness home for me.
Review by Pat Kieth

New Hope for People With Bipolar Disorder Jan Fawcett, Bernard Golden & Nancy Rosenfeld, "New Hope for People With Bipolar Disorder."
This book is written by three authors: a bipolar patient, a professor of psychology, and a professor of psychiatry. As such the style is somewhat inconsistent and is more a collection of separate essays than a coherent work. A wide range of topics are covered but not to any great depth. The chapter on psychotherapy contains a good introduction to cognitive behavior therapy. There is a chapter on childhood and adolescent bipolar illness, and also one on living with people who have bipolar disorder, subjects not commonly covered in an introductory text. The book will serve as an acceptable introduction to bipolar disorder for those with the disorder and for their loved ones. However, my preference would be for the books by Mondimore and Miklowitz.

Book: What Goes Up Judy Eron, "What Goes Up...
Surviving the Manic Episode of a Loved One."

The author tells the story of her husband's year-long manic episode and finally his depression and suicide. She tells us of the agony of their separation, her thoughts and feelings at the time, the decisions she made and why she made them. With the benefit of hindsight she points out errors and how she might have handled things better. She tells a moving story in a well written and very readable way, illustrated with notes from her journal. Those caring for a loved one with bipolar disorder will find comfort in this book, assurance that they are not alone, and practical suggestions for how to maintain their own sanity while helping their loved one.

Bipolar Puzzle Solution: A Mental Health Client's Perspective Bryan L. Court, Gerald E. Nelson, "Bipolar Puzzle Solution: A Mental Health Client's Perspective."
Peer support groups are an important source of information, understanding, and support for people with bipolar disorder. All of the questions that were asked in one particular bipolar support group were written down, with answers, and published in this book. The author is a bipolar II patient and his answers have been reviewed by his psychiatrist. The questions cover a wider range of topics than is found in other handbooks for bipolar patients however the question and answer format limits the depth of each of the answers to typically a few paragraphs. The author's personal struggle with the disorder comes through clearly. However, the author's experience is with the bipolar II form of the disorder and I felt that aspects of the disorder unique to bipolar I were missing. The author's religious faith is interwoven with advice on coping with the disorder which I found irritating as I suspect will others who do not share the author's religious beliefs. Overall the book presents an unusual mix of personal experience and practical advice aimed at patients and those who support them.

New Releases

Book: Highest of Highs to lowest of lows Michael Kinyanjui, "Highest of Highs to lowest of lows."
This is the well-written autobiography of a young man with bipolar disorder type I. He gives more details of his youth than is common in order to show the undiagnosed illness appearing in childhood and early adolescence. He offers insight into what is going on within the mind during a manic episode and also during the doldrums of depression. In the end he reports responding well to medication. The book will help those suffering bipolar disorder to identify with the author's experience and perhaps gain hope that the condition can be overcome. It will also help caregivers to gain some insight into the condition.

Some newly released books with reviews from the publishers:

Kirk J. Wessbecker, "Thoughts Behind the Mind."
Being Bipolar and not medicated is never a good idea. Author Kirk J. Wessbecker learns this the hard way when after four years of self-medication he finds himself committed to the state hospital in a state of psychosis. Thinking that being bipolar was normal, looking in the mirror at the hospital turns into a devastating wakeup call.
Bipolar disorder is an illness that can take a person to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Medication may have taken away the mania but had left him depressed. No longer self-medicating for depression, he soon finds out what helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness really mean. Searching for a new way to cope, he turns to God for help.
Thoughts Behind the Mind reveals the spiritual side of this illness and how one can lead a good life by having a spiritual relationship with God.

Lisa Mora, "I am Lisa; I am not Bipolar."
I am Lisa; I am not Bipolar is vital reading for anyone who has ever experienced the trauma of mental illness, either directly or with someone they love. This very personal and brutally honest story cuts to the very core of what constitutes our sense of self as Lisa seeks to reveal that there is more to us all than meets the eye. Join Lisa on her journey from her unusual gypsy childhood, to her teenage diagnosis of Bipolar disorder and her consequent struggles in maintaining consistency with relationships and employment in adulthood. Lisa's outlook on life has developed as a result of these struggles; struggles that more people experience than would care to admit. In this compelling read, drawing on memories and entries from a lifetime of journals, Lisa bravely tells her story with disarming honesty. Find out what life is really like for those with a mental illness.

Jeremy Gluck, "Victim of Dreams—Civil War in the Soul."
Novelist, poet and musician Jeremy Gluck draws on his experiences of growing up in post-War Canada in a breath-takingly beautiful and poignant account of his battle with bipolar disorder (manic depression). He contrasts a depiction of his descent into depression and madness with the narrative innocence of his childhood. Published in the UK but available in the USA.

Cynthia M. Sabotka, "Life is Like a Line—A Memoir of Moods, Medication, and Mania."
This gripping and fast-paced book chronicles one woman's determined effort to break the cycle of mental illness that has plagued her family for generations. In poignant, brutally honest prose, Cynthia Sabotka details her struggle to come to grips with her dysfunctional family and her own bipolar disorder discovered at age 48. She describes the pain of her parents' abusive relationship, her descent into drug and alcohol abuse, manic-depressive episodes that leave her dangerously close to the edge, and the ongoing family struggles that prevent her from breaking free. In her forties, desperate to escape the incredible highs and crushing lows of her illness, Cynthia finally reaches out for help. This is her very personal story of survival. Through her journal-like entries, Cynthia opens a window into what it is like to live with bipolar disorder. With courage and humor, she shows us her daily challenge to achieve a life of predictability and stability-one that oftentimes seems just beyond reach.

Terri Cheney, "Manic: A Memoir."
In between representing Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, and major movie studios, successful Beverly Hills lawyer, Terri Cheney, kept a terrible secret that almost killed her. Struggling with bipolar disorder, Cheney was paralyzed by depression one moment, and battling reckless euphoria the next. Revealing the devastating manifestations and effects on herself and those around her—from multiple suicide attempts, near-death experiences, nights in jail, sexual exploits, and broken relationships—Cheney sheds light on the most misunderstood mental illness. A harrowing and hopeful memoir, this unforgettable roller-coaster ride is a brutally honest account of a life lived in extremes.