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Desperate Remedies

Desperate Remedies

Psychiatry’s Turbulent Quest to Cure Mental Illness

Andrew Scull

ISBN 9780674295513

Publication date: 04/01/2024

A Telegraph Book of the Year
A Washington Post Notable Work
A Times Book of the Year
A Hughes Award Finalist

“An indisputable masterpiece…comprehensive, fascinating, and persuasive.”
Wall Street Journal

“Compulsively readable…Scull has joined his wide-ranging reporting and research with a humane perspective on matters that many of us continue to look away from.”
—Daphne Merkin, The Atlantic

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

“Meticulously researched and beautifully written, and even funny at times.”
The Guardian

“Brimming with wisdom and brio, this masterful work spans the history of psychiatry. 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

From the birth of the asylum to the latest drug trials, Desperate Remedies brings together a galaxy of mind doctors working in and out of institutional settings: psychologists and psychoanalysts, neuroscientists and cognitive behavioral therapists, as well as patients and their families desperate for relief. One of the most provocative thinkers writing about psychiatry today, Andrew Scull carefully reconstructs the rise and fall of state-run mental hospitals to explain why so many of the mentally ill are now on the street, and why victims of experimental therapies were so often women. He reveals how drug companies expanded their reach to treat a growing catalog of ills, while deliberately concealing the side effects of drugs now routinely prescribed from childhood through senescence.

Carefully researched and compulsively readable, this passionate and compassionate account of America’s long battle with mental illness challenges us to rethink our deepest assumptions about how we think and feel.


  • An indisputable masterpiece…a comprehensive, fascinating, and persuasive narrative of the past 200 years of psychiatry in America…[Scull] is unsparing in his critiques when motives of money, power, and fame have tempted psychiatrists to disregard the welfare of those under their care.

    —Richard J. McNally, Wall Street Journal


  • Andrew Scull is the author of Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine; Hysteria: The Disturbing History; Madness: A Very Short Introduction, and Psychiatry and Its Discontents, among other books. Distinguished Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, he won the Roy Porter Medal for lifetime contribution to the history of medicine and the Eric Carlson award for lifetime contributions to the history of psychiatry. He has contributed to many documentaries, including PBS’s “Mysteries of Mental Illness” and “The Lobotomist,” has written for the The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Times Literary Supplement, Scientific American, and The Nation, and blogs for Psychology Today and Mad in America.

Book Details

  • 512 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press