Guinea pigs and happy pills: new books to check out

Two new books this week for everyone who considers themselves an extreme self – or wishes they were.

Experimental Man is a book that builds on prior journalistic guinea pig efforts of David Ewing Duncan35767780, a contributing editor at Portfolio, Discover, and Wired. Duncan has been a medical test junkie for years now, and has written award-winning features on the subject of his own examinations. Now, he’s taken “guinea pig journalism” to the extreme, undergoing hundreds of medical tests: genetic, toxicity, MRIs, blood, brain scan and on and on and on. All this as a way of exploring the new age of personalized medicine and its implications.

The book has an interactive companion in the Experimental Man website, being run by the Center for Life Science Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. The site is becoming an encyclopedia of information on 21st century health, and even allows visitors to share their own personalized test results.

31nelpfbyul_sl500_aa240_Happy Pills in America is a new book by history professor David Herzberg. Dr. Herzberg documents the surge in popularity of various psychotropic “wonder drugs” like antidepressants and anxiety meds.  “After World War II, a vast and powerful system of commercial medicine anchored by pharmaceutical companies brought consumer culture to psychotropic medications,” he says. Since then, we’ve seen the commercialization of pharmacological treatments for depression, mania, anxiety and a host of other thought, mood and attention disorders.

Herzberg goes so far as to argue that happiness and normalcy have been redefined because of the ubiquity of mood altering medications. “The meaning ascribed to tranquilizers and antidepressants, and to normalcy itself, has been molded and re-molded, and the result owes as much to commerce and culture as it does to science,” he says.

On the one hand, we’ve got a man setting himself up to be bombarding with diagnoses and diseases – on the other, a historian who claims that many of these diagnoses (those pertaining to mental health, at least) may have more to do with commerce than science.

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