Stossel has obviously done a great amount of research for this book, not only on the neuroscience behind anxiety disorders, but (more interesting to me) also the history of the disorder, how it’s been explained and treated in the past, and how it has been perceived both in the past and today. He discusses some interesting issues, such as anxiety’s similarity to clinical depression, social anxiety’s similarity to autism, and the development of our modern definition and acceptance of PTSD in soldiers.
Although the author makes reference to the inherent egotism in making himself his prime subject, using his own personal experiences adds an element of familiarity to a book that might otherwise be rather sterile. Stossel seems very forthcoming in talking about his own experiences with anxiety, and I can’t imagine the difficulties he must have had in exposing himself in this way. Likewise, the fact that Stossel is a journalist rather than a mental health specialist only makes the book better. Few could refute a journalist’s research abilities (and so I had little doubt of the reliability of his given facts), and as a journalist Stossel’s writing is much more colloquial and digestible than maybe it would have been if written by someone in the field of health or science.
While the science of the book may at times slow it down, I still think it’s an excellent read for anyone who is suffers from anxiety problems or who has a loved one who does. The more I read the book, the more grateful I became that I haven’t had to live with an anxiety disorder.
The first third of the book discusses the nature of anxiety, its history, how its been approached both in the past and today. The third part of the book, titled Drugs, discusses the development of antianxiety medication, from wine in ancient times to our modern Xanax and Prozac. When mass-market antianxiety pills were first made available in the 1950s, scientist Nathan Kline suggested that psychiatric drugs may be a more important invention than the atom bomb, because if everyone is happy we naturally won’t want to bomb each other.
I think my biggest complaint is only that Stossel attempts to take on too much. There’s a copious amount of (long) footnotes that don’t always relate to the topic being discussed, and while you might argue that I’m not being forced to read them, let’s be realistic – it’s cheating if I don’t read everything. The time I took to read the footnotes extended considerably the time it took me to read the book.
In general, it’s a good book for amateurs interested in the history and basic science behind various forms of anxiety. But readers that aren’t willing to commit the time to read the book should probably stick to WebMD and Wiki, even if that means sacrificing the personal aspects of the book
My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel and published by Alfred A. Knopf is on shelves today.