Charting the Depths

Reflections on the science of depression.

The Ten Best Books About Depression

What to read if you want to understand depression

Want to understand depression? Here are the ten books I recommend most strongly:

Greenberg, G. (2010). Manufacturing depression: The secret history of a modern disease. New York: Simon & Schuster. Excellent book on how the diagnosis of depression has evolved. It’s a sharp, and often funny, critique of the biomedical approach to depression.

Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications A great self-help book, which presents the perspective of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I am generally skeptical about self-help books, so I don’t recommend it lightly!

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Healy, D. (1999). The antidepressant era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Fascinating and authoritative history. If you want to understand how antidepressants were discovered and marketed and the scientific and economic forces that entrenched antidepressants as the mainline treatment for depression, read this book.

Horwitz, A. V. & Wakefield, J. C. (2007). The loss of sadness: How psychiatry transformed normal sorrow into depressive disorder. New York: Oxford University Press. Presents the thesis that the epidemic of depression is not real but rather results from a broadened diagnosis of depression. Recommend as a stimulating read even though I disagree with this thesis..

Jamison, K. R. (1995). An unquiet mind: A memoir of moods and madness. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Still the best memoir about bipolar disorder, written by a leading bipolar disorders researcher.

Karp, D. A. (1997). Speaking of sadness: Depression, disconnection, and the meanings of illness. New York, US: Oxford University Press. Brilliant sociological account of what it means to be a depressed person in the modern world, told through interviews with 50 patients.

Kirsch, I. (2011). The emperor’s new drugs: Exploding the antidepressant myth. New York: Basic Books. Presents compelling analyses showing that antidepressants only have modest efficacy. If you want to understand the science of clinical trials, read this book.

Maisel, E. (2012). Rethinking depression: How to shed mental health labels and create personal meaning. Novato, CA: New World Library. Bold presentation of an existentialist perspective on depression. You will never think about depression the same way after reading it.

Solomon, A. (2002). The noonday demon: An atlas of depression. New York: Scribner. Beautifully written compendium that integrates personal, cultural, and scientific perspective on depression.

Styron, W. (1992). Darkness Visible. New York: Vintage. Still the best memoir of depression. Searching and haunting description of the descent into depression by literary master William Styron.

Does my book The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic belong on this list? Time will tell.  I am certainly biased, so please check out the opinions of PT Bloggers Kashdan, Pruchno, and Bergland. Ultimately, people like you will decide!

Happy reading!

Jonathan Rottenberg is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida, where he directs the Mood and Emotion Laboratory.

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