Review of "Manic Minds"

By Lisa Hermsen
Rutgers University Press, 2011
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Jan 8th 2013
Manic Minds

Manic Minds is a book about mania.  The author, Lisa M. Hermsen, is an Associate Professor in the Department of English, at Rochester Institute of Technology.  Mania centric, cerebral discourse comprises the substantive essence of the book.  Hermsen instructs the reader cerebrally about mania by means of an eclectic array of sources, reaching to:  textbooks, asylum reports, genetic studies, mental illness narratives, neuroimaging, and neuropharmacology.  In substance, and congruently in style, the writing of Hermsen is distinctly tinged esoterically.

Copious research referenced materials contribute materially and instructively to the substantive composition of the book.  These materials cover an expansive area joined to mania.  The considerable area of mania research materials covered over the course of the book is examined critically and expertly.

Some snippets, in the form of quotes extracted from research materials, contribute likewise to the book's didactic worth.

In a "Notes" structural section, structurally following the book's "Epilogue", citations are given for textually referenced research  materials; some of the Notes provide annotated comment.

Structurally, there is additionally, after the Notes, a "Bibliography", providing citations, alphabetized by author last name, for textually relevant materials.

A bevy of "Figures" adorn the textual body germanely and artistically.

Hermsen artfully, and anecdotally, sews some autobiographical threads into the substantive cloth of the text.

Bits and pieces of anecdotal data gleaned from the mental illness narratives of various persons are further interwoven adeptly, and anecdotally, into the textual tapestry.

From a critical perspective, some may opine that these anecdotal data are enlivening substantively, albeit disempowering academically.

Five chapters are the structural pillars principally supporting the book's substantive foundation.  These chapters are bookended, on one end, by an "Introduction"; the other bookend is an Epilogue.

The substantive focus of Hermsen, in the Introduction, envelops the historical meaning of the word "mania", and the relationship enmeshing mania, madness, and mental illness.

Hermsen then expounds abstrusely, in Chapter 1, on textbooks, in the context especially of mania and how it, historically, has been described textually.  Some historical details of the relationship entwining mania and madness, as described in textbooks, are fleshed out.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders notably garners pertinent comment.

Historical aspects of asylums and mania step to the substantive fore, of Chapter 2.  Materials culled informatively and instructively from a multitude of asylum reports contribute prominently to the chapter's didactic strength.  Hermsen's wide sweeping view of the history of asylum reform spots:  lay reformer Dorothea Dix, writer Charles Dickens, as well as literary figures Edgar Allen Poe and A.J.H. Duganne.

In Chapter 3, Hermsen turns readers' attention intellectually in the direction of genetics and mania.  Hermsen instructively traces, for readers' edification, unfolding historical lineaments of genetics and mania.  Conspicuously, in this frame, Hermsen sights George Winokur and the "Iowa 500 study".  Historical connections of the state of  Iowa to the realm of genetics and mania, extending to eugenics, are displayed prominently.  Notably, Hermsen describes her volunteer participation in a research study appertaining to bipolar disorder.

The substantive cynosure of Chapter 4 is personal experiences with mania.  In this enframing context, Hermsen adroitly cobbles together bits and pieces of anecdotal information collected selectively from the mental illness narratives of various persons.  There is thoughtful addressing of the issue of whether authentic narration of mental illness is possible.  Hermsen similarly addresses with thoughtfulness the issue of whether those with mental illness, those who are mad, can narrate at all.  And finally, Hermsen discourses on the final perceived challenge to mental illness narratives of speaking of mania as being multiple.  The chapter's substantive matter is formed in vital part by quotes culled anecdotally from selected mental illness narratives.  Sobering details pertaining to Hermsen's personal experience of  being manic further contribute vitally to the chapter's substance.

Congruent with Hermsen's anticipation of a neuro future, the centerstage of concluding Chapter 5 is reserved for neuroimaging and neuropharmacology.  In a relatively generalized way, Hermsen describes neuroimaging; and some of the research in this field is viewed keenly by Hermsen.  The range of Hermsen's intellectual vision ranges next to neuropsychopharmacology.  The treatment of mania with lithium, particularly, attracts Hermsen's critically discerning gaze.

At the start of the book's Epilogue, the wide ranging ken of Hermsen additionally sights "neurasthenia".  Temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria (regarding children) also falls within Hermsen's field of intellectually keen vision.

Cautious readers may caution that issues relating to mania remain wedded to disagreement; and that not all experts will agree necessarily with particular views advanced by Hermsen.

But the intellectual sparks emanating from Hermsen's scintillating scholarship will very likely pleasingly inflame the interest of readers seeking knowledge of mania.

Mental health professionals, including scientists, researchers, and clinicians, as well as medical historians, geneticists, and pharmacologists stand especially to benefit, professionally, from the intellectual toil of  Hermsen.


© 2013 Leo Uzych


Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare. Twitter @LeoUzych


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