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  • Published: 31 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9780141996462
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 512

Desperate Remedies

Psychiatry and the Mysteries of Mental Illness

In this masterful work, Andrew Scull, one of the most provocative thinkers writing about psychiatry, sheds light on its troubled history

For more than two hundred years, disturbances of reason, cognition and emotion - the sort of things that were once called 'madness' - have been described and treated by the medical profession. Mental illness, it is said, is an illness like any other - a disorder that can be treated by doctors, whose suffering can be eased, and from which patients can return. And yet serious mental illness remains a profound mystery that is in some ways no closer to being solved than it was at the start of the twentieth century.

In this clear-sighted and provocative exploration of psychiatry, acclaimed sociologist Andrew Scull traces the history of its attempts to understand and mitigate mental illness: from the age of the asylum and unimaginable surgical and chemical interventions, through the rise and fall of Freud and the talking cure, and on to our own time of drug companies and antidepressants. Through it all, Scull argues, the often vain and rash attempts to come to terms with the enigma of mental disorder have frequently resulted in dire consequences for the patient.

Deeply researched and lucidly conveyed, Desperate Remedies masterfully illustrates the assumptions and theory behind the therapy, providing a definitive new account of psychiatry's and society's battle with mental illness.

  • Published: 31 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9780141996462
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 512

Praise for Desperate Remedies

Desperate Remedies is a harrowing, heart-pounding history that will leave you gasping. Andrew Scull vividly transports us to the dismal asylums and experimental operating rooms that haunt psychiatry's past and then links that tragic era with our prescription-happy present. Dryly witty, but always compassionate, he shines a light on a century of medical mayhem and the horror it inflicted on the innocent. This is a riveting, powerful and utterly astonishing read.

Simon Rich, author of Hits and Misses

A blistering critique. Scull's arguments are passionately delivered and while some might sound radical, they also have common sense

New Statesman

A vital rallying cry. Scull convincingly conveys the long search for a better take on mental disorder


An erudite, precise and impassioned history of 200 years of psychiatry ... five stars

Simon Ings, The Sunday Telegraph

I would recommend this fascinating, alarming and alerting book to anybody. For anyone referred to a psychiatrist it is surely essential

Horatio Clare, The Spectator

The chilling truth about mental illness: opportunists, asylums and big pharma - there are few heroes in this enraging study of a great failing. Fascinating

Sebastian Faulks, The Sunday Times

Desperate Remedies, which tells the story of mental illness over the past two centuries, is meticulously researched and beautifully written, and even funny at times, despite the serious content


A riveting chronicle of faulty science, false promises, arrogance, greed, and shocking disregard for the wellbeing of patients suffering from mental disorders. An eloquent, meticulously documented, clear-eyed call for change.

Dirk Wittenborn, author of Pharmakon

An immensely engaging -- if often dismaying -- account of American psychiatry. Scull impressively balances the social reality that constitutes 'mental illness' with the ever-shifting rationales used to explain such unsettling behaviors and emotions and justify the social function of those who manage these elusive ills. Desperate Remedies is an important contribution to our understanding of a fundamental and still-contested aspect of human experience.

Charles Rosenberg, author of The Care of Strangers

Andrew Scull weighs American psychiatry in the balance and finds it seriously wanting. So this may not be the best introductory text for an aspiring medical student. But it is required reading for anyone who appreciates great writing, insight and outstanding scholarship - just the kind of people we want doing psychiatry

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, Regius Professor of Psychiatry, King's College London

Brimming with wisdom and brio, this masterful work spans the history of modern psychiatric practice, from the abject horrors of Victorian asylums to the complexities surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness to this day. Exceedingly well-researched, wide-ranging, provocative in its conclusions, and magically compact, it is riveting from start to finish. Mark my words, Desperate Remedies will soon be a classic.

Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire and The Great Pretender

This fascinating picture of psychiatry since 1900 is absolutely essential, deeply felt and absorbing

David Aaronovitch, The Times

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