Cover: A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century, from Harvard University PressCover: A War of Nerves in PAPERBACK

A War of Nerves

Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century

Add to Cart

Product Details


$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674011199

Publication Date: 03/30/2003

Academic Trade

512 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

17 halftones and 1 line illustration in an 8 page insert

World rights except United Kingdom & Commonwealth

Has the American counseling industry actually amplified the difficulties of the Vietnam veterans? …By pulling more and more terrified men away from the front during the first world war, did the army only confirm to them the seriousness and irrevocable nature of their hysterical conversion syndromes? These and many others are the questions that are unflinchingly addressed in this disturbing and original book. Ben Shephard, a historian and producer of war documentaries, explores the psychic traumas and dramas created during the two world wars and since… [His book is] provocative, deeply shocking, moving and always compelling… This reviewer, at least, hopes that it is widely read.The Economist

Shephard’s engaging and impressively researched study offers a detailed survey of psychiatric—and to a lesser extent, social and cultural—responses to war trauma from the First World War to the Gulf War of 1991… He ranges freely through British and American material and manages to incorporate useful discussions of German and French psychiatry as well… [Shepard] covers the medical dimension with equal mastery and introduces a rich panoply of psychiatric characters and movements.—Paul Lerner, The Times Literary Supplement

Shephard didn’t write A War of Nerves with Iraq in mind; the bulk of it focuses on the two world wars and Vietnam, with a short section on the Falklands and the 1991 Gulf War at the end. But its unflinching look at the awkward intersection of psychiatry and the military offers a fascinating left-field perspective on war and its hidden costs. Weaving together a panoramic array of source materials (official reports, soldiers’ diaries, interviews with doctors, Pentagon memos, snatches from novels and academic treatises), he catalogs 20th-century attempts to lessen the agony of war, at least for the troops—an unenviable task.—Joy Press, The Village Voice

A War of Nerves is magnificent: expertly researched, richly textured, nuanced where the nuances matter, brutally clear where that helps… [T]his book will stand for what it is: an instant classic. In the United States, there’s a saga, well embedded in popular consciousness, of the nexus between soldiers, psychiatrists and war-induced mental conditions… Mr. Shephard tells the story brilliantly, this tale of mass insanity and petty personal rivalries, of colliding morals and contending philosophies, and their still incalculable effects.—Philip Gold, The Washington Times

A War of Nerves is a fascinating and harrowing book. It is a history of what in the First World War was called ‘shell shock,’ that easy name for the complete ‘moral’ and physical collapse of an individual soldier, and its reception by the military. [The military was] apt to treat it with an accusation of cowardice…prison or sometimes a firing squad… But Ben Shephard shows that most of the twentieth century saw a campaign to find out what causes soldiers to break down and to develop ways to help them recover.New Scientist

Both a historian of psychiatry and a producer of documentary films, Shephard brings finely honed skills from both fields to his book. He matches his meticulously documented historical research with a journalist/producer’s trained eye for the single detail, the precise anecdote, the appropriate quote that tells a story. The combination produces a fascinating and compelling exploration of a complex and still-controversial topic that could easily be ponderous and dull.—Mary Hager, National Journal

An impressive history of mental illness and its treatment during wartime. Drawing on almost 100 years of medical records from Britain, France, Germany, and the US, the author shows how military commands consistently downplayed soldiers’ psychiatric problems… An invaluable resource for doctors, scholars of war literature, and military leaders.Kirkus Reviews

[In his] ambitious study, bolstered by an impressive array of sources…Shephard melds contemporary literary, military, and medical documentation by offering a panorama of war neuroses with conflicting schools of treatment. He suggests qualified answers as to why combatants react differently to stress and discusses the appropriate roles and investments of the military, government, and society in the rehabilitation of those psychologically crippled by war… This fine study should appeal to all readers.—John Carver Edwards, Library Journal

Shephard emphasizes the importance of social and cultural, as opposed to medical, responses to war stress: immediate local help, given by those who understand concepts of military group bonding, is crucial, underpinned by leadership and comradeship, dissociation and displacement… It is an argument currently unfashionable, but meriting correspondingly wide circulation and discussion.Publishers Weekly

Ben Shephard’s study of how war wounds men’s minds, and of medicine’s efforts to heal the damage done, is based on years of dedicated research. It is the best book I have read on the subject and it will endure.—Sir John Keegan, author of The First World War

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns, by Bruno Latour, translated by Catherine Porter, from Harvard University Press

Honoring Latour

In awarding Bruno Latour the 2021 Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy, the Inamori Foundation said he has “revolutionized the conventional view of science” and “his philosophy re-examines ‘modernity’ based on the dualism of nature and society.” Below is an excerpt from An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. For more than twenty years, scientific and technological controversies have proliferated in number and scope, eventually reaching the climate itself. Since geologists are beginning to use the term “Anthropocene” to designate the era of Earth’s history that follows the Holocene