The Noble Lie
From Booklist: Taken from the world of medicine, Greenberg’s seven tales caution his readers about the underlying assumptions of certain diagnoses rendered by doctors. With his skepticism informed by a prewriting career as a psychotherapist, Greenberg casts his doubts into humorous form, often at his own expense, as when he describes participating in a clinical trial of fish oil’s therapeutic value in treating depression. But first he must pass standard psychological evaluations that determine—scientifically!—if he’s officially down in the dumps. Greenberg’s mini history of the creation of such evaluation methods underscores their irreducible subjectivity, a facet that also appears in his stories about medical definitions of alcoholism, homosexuality, schizophrenia, comas, and death. In the case of alcoholism, its definition as a disease rather than a weakness originated, amazingly enough, in a 1942 article, not by a medical professional, but by a public relations flack. Yet, Greenberg observes, patients report benefiting from therapies however unscientific he suspects their bases are: that’s the noble lie he examines. Alt-medicine fans will be informed and entertained by this engaging author. – Gilbert Taylor
From New Scientist: An impressive and fascinating round-up of pseudoscientific notions and the ways in which they have come to count as genuine illnesses. In each case he examines, Greenberg cites the strange and sometimes contradictory views that people struggling to clear up these questions often express. Laudably, he does not rest content with diagnosing paradoxes. Instead, he points out that these are truly hard problems, ones where it is not unreasonable for people to welcome any half-decent solution rather than living in total blindness.
In the Kingdom of the Unabomber
In the Kingdom of the Unabomber is my account of my attempt to break into the writing racket by making friends with Ted Kaczynski. The ploy worked, although not in the way I had in mind. This story, which appeared in Issue 3 of McSweeney's was made into a half-hour documentary by Errol Morris. It's on disc 2 of the First Person series, available here and here.
Little Brown Shack
This is the story of how we came to adopt my son. It ran in Tin House back in 2004. It's a little sentimental, and full of embarrassing details, but I like it enough to invite you to read it.
The War on Unhappiness
Sigmund Freud was already fifty-three when he came to America for the first time. He almost didn’t make it at all. As he explained to Stanley Hall, the president of Clark University, the $400 he’d been offered to appear at a conference celebrating the school’s twentieth anniversary was simply not enough to com- pensate him for the time away from his practice...
Inside the Battle to Define Mental Illness
Every so often Al Frances says something that seems to surprise even him. Just now, for instance, in the predawn darkness of his comfortable, rambling home in Carmel, California, he has broken off his exercise routine to declare that “there is no definition of a mental disorder. It’s bullshit. I mean, you just can’t define it.”
As Good As Dead
As Good As Dead is about brain death and organ transplant for The New Yorker. It features a Liszt-playing, St. Thomas-quoting neurologist who thinks that brain dead people are alive, a boy on life support for thirteen years after his brain died, but who, thanks to a glitch in the law, was still alive, and another boy who didn't die the right way to donate his organs. It also has a cameo appearance from Weird Al Yankovich.
The Serotonin Surprise
The Serotonin Surprise, in Discover, is an article about the way that antidepressants change the structure of your brain. But the really bad news is how little doctors knew (and still know) about how the drugs actually work. And it turns out they disagree about what "brain damage" consists of.
Is it Prozac or Placebo?
Is it Prozac or Placebo? is an article that appeared in Mother Jones on the placebo effect. Highlight moment: when a woman finds out that she was on placebos in her clinical trial, during which her depression improved, and is offered her reward for being a subject–a year's worth of Effexor. You can't make this stuff up.
In The Condemned, I wrote for Mother Jones about something entirely unrelated to science – the use of eminent domain to line the pockets of would-be developers.
To write Respectable Reefer, which appeared in Mother Jones, I entered the world of high-grade, government-sanctioned pot. I didn't get to try it, but the people whom I watched seemed to like it just fine.
The Confidence Man
From Harper's Magazine:
A MIND OF ITS OWN
THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR
BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT