cover image Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness

Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness

Roy Richard Grinker. Norton, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-393-53164-0

Grinker (Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism), an anthropology professor at George Washington University, examines modern ideas around mental illness in this impactful book. He proposes that “mental illness and stigma were born together” of capitalism, under which the mentally ill were understood in opposition to the “ideal modern worker.” As a result, up until WWI, the insane were considered unfit for society; the war, however, exposed the general population to the idea that even brave men could be diagnosed with problems such as shell shock or neurasthenia. Grinker then looks at the development of medical means for treating mental illness over the 20th century, resulting in both effective and ineffective measures, such as, respectively, electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomies. He also includes some family history—his grandfather was psychoanalyzed by Freud and later became a famous psychoanalyst himself. Readers sympathetic to Grinker’s concern for the mentally ill will find an enlightening brief for the positions that “both normality and abnormality are fictional lands” and that the idea of a mental health spectrum leads to more humane care than strictly drawn divisions between the mentally healthy and unhealthy. This book will fascinate anyone drawn to the subjects of mental illness, psychology, and psychiatry. (Jan.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misidentified the university where the author teaches.