cover image Can't Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions

Can't Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions

Sharon Begley. Simon & Schuster, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4767-2582-6

Science journalist Begley (Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain) demystifies compulsive behavior, exploring its history and manifestations and the many difficulties its sufferers face in finding appropriate diagnoses and treatment. Establishing compulsive behavior as the brain's attempt to assuage anxiety, Begley argues that it can serve a useful purpose. She notes that there are socially acceptable compulsive “quirks,” such as a baseball player who won't change his “lucky” shorts, and that people turn to compulsive habits to feel more in control, a response that is “hardly pathological.” Begley also provides riveting case studies, including a woman who must check her refrigerator repeatedly to ensure that her cat is not inside and a man whose germophobia compelled him to throw out his clothes, shave his head, and abandon his apartment for a series of hotel rooms. A fascinating historical analysis notes references to hoarding in Dante’s Inferno and describes an obsessive Victorian-era book collector. Begley also chats with video game creators about their “addictive” products and expresses a healthy skepticism regarding concerns over widespread compulsive Internet usage. Much of the text summarizes well-known scholarship, but Begley's final chapter on brain function in the compulsive mind contains fresh insight that could fundamentally alter how we think of, and treat, mental illness going forward. Agent: Linda Loewenthal, David Black Agency. (Feb.)