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Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness

3.22  ·  Rating Details ·  116 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
In the 1970s, a small group of leading psychiatrists met behind closed doors and literally rewrote the book on their profession. Revising and greatly expanding the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short), they turned what had been a thin, spiral-bound handbook into a hefty tome. Almost overnight the number of diagnoses exploded. The result was ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 28th 2007 by Yale University Press (first published September 26th 2007)
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Skylar Burris
Oct 15, 2008 Skylar Burris rated it it was ok
Shelves: sociology, psychology
I was interested in reading this book for a variety of reasons. One is that, as an introverted person who was at one time also shy, I have always felt that extroverts do not understand and often misjudge shy people and that, because they are outgoing, extroverts tend to set the expectations for "normal" behavior in society. A second reason is that, as I see increasing advertising for mood-altering drugs and hear of an increasing array of new disorders, I have become concerned that the line betwe ...more
Mar 29, 2012 えりか rated it did not like it
I am mystified by the average rating, because this book, to be blunt, was awful. By around page 30 I could not take him seriously anymore. Any sort of credibility he could have had was conversely stripped by his poorly hidden disdain and I-know-everything tone. His obvious scorn towards the field of modern day psychiatry has him painting all psychiatrists as narrow-minded and even uncaring towards patients' situations.

This topic isn't anything new. There's been lots of discussion about where th
Dec 28, 2011 Sandee rated it did not like it
This book was awful, which is ashame because I actually agree with his position. However, not only was it terribly dry, but he makes these sweeping generalizations that are often inaccurate. He also jumps to conclusions and downplays multiple psychological issues that are typically more serious than he makes them out to be. Just one example of something that annoyed me was his position that the DSM has stopped using the word "reaction" for multiple disorders to make things seem more chronic and ...more
Dec 01, 2008 Kathleen rated it liked it
Hmmm..what to say about this book? I think it is an important book, with a well-researched and vital message about the overmedication of America and the involvement of the pharmaceutical industry in "selling" psychological problems. I just wish it hadn't been so dry in the first half, then wandering in the second half.

It raises the great question: How did shyness develop into a "diagnosis" -social anxiety disorder- that, if untreated by the latest pharmaceuticals, meant the person was not livin
Sep 14, 2010 Abby rated it really liked it
Shelves: informational
As an introvert myself, I was intrigued by the title. Someone thinks I'm not abnormal.

In fact, this book goes to great lengths to show that introverts were labeled mentally ill, not because of a need for treatment but because American society values out-going personalities and psychiatrists wanted job security - but mostly because psychiatrists wanted something to cure. Psychiatrists think psychologists are Freudian, and Freud is wrong. It's not emotions and history that make people be what they
Amy Mann
Feb 17, 2015 Amy Mann rated it it was amazing
I found Shyness to be a powerful book and an engaging read. It is very well documented and draws on a fascinating archive of unpublished papers at the American Psychiatric Association that shows clearly how the DSM was updated in the 1970s, with decisions that seem questionable to say the least. The Author details major debates about social anxiety disorder and its cross-over with shyness, including from interviews with many of the psychiatrists involved. This brings the material to life and kee ...more
Jennifer W
So far (and I'm 15 pages into it), I'm not impressed. Twice now I have stopped and found an error in the text. The 1st being that 50% of Americans have mental illnesses, if you read *his* citation in the back of the book it actually says that 50% of Americans may develop a mental illness during their lifetime, the 2nd being that people who take SSRIs-Prozac, Zoloft etc- have low levels of serotonin, this is not true either. SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor- they may have lo ...more
Jul 13, 2013 Katherine rated it it was ok
I am of two minds on this book. On the one hand, the author makes some excellent points. He reproduces some of the communications between the authors of the DSM-III during its writing. The contempt that some of the authors displayed towards their patients and the insistence that certain behaviors or beliefs they disapprove of must be symptoms of mental illness is breathtaking, as is the acrimony between the authors. The actual process of writing the DSM-III was not particularly scientific and cu ...more
Nov 21, 2010 Patrick rated it really liked it
If this book does nothing else, it at least makes you think. Doubtless the author has his biases, particularly leaning toward Freud, but the story of how DSM-II became DSM-III (and IV and soon V) makes for appalling reading. It is not that the triumph of the "neo-Kraepelins," essentially the school of thought that all mental illness has some sort of physical cause, would particularly bother me (though it certainly does the author), it is the "palace coup" method of how their ideas came to the fo ...more
Nov 30, 2016 Susan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book tells how the manual currently used to diagnose and label "mental illness" (such as shyness) came to be agreed on and codified--how the labels and what was included was largely an issue of ego, in-fighting, etc. while little to no thought was given to truthful common sense understanding of people, or to what effect labeling people might have on their lives. It's eye-opening and very important given the intrusion of the pharmaceutical industry on our general acceptanceof what kinds of e ...more
Jun 20, 2011 Yasmin rated it it was amazing
"Without romanticizing the figure of the tormented genius, [Lane] reminds us of the costs of being mired in an excess of equilibrium. In the end, he seems hopeful about the tide shifting against the overdiagnosis of social anxiety disorder and towards a resurgence of psychoanalysis. For the sake of our lives, we can only hope that he’s right."
Read the rest of my review here:
Dec 20, 2014 Megan rated it liked it
Interesting info about the push to add anxiety-related disorders to the DSM in the 1980s, but it felt a little biased, drawn out and too heavy on statistics. I think if he had included more real life examples of people struggling to be diagnosed correctly or living with anxiety (and not so many from movies?) it would have helped. Again, I will mention the fact that a lot of nonfiction books really need some help with outlining and organizing so the book flows better (why do authors use so many p ...more
Cadmium Candy
Sep 23, 2011 Cadmium Candy rated it liked it
An interesting concept, but i'm having a bit of trouble finishing it, it tends to ramble on a fair bit and include quotes which are far too long. It has a very artsy style which might make it readable for laity or people with a social sciences background, but gets a bit frustrating for a scientist to read.
Mar 15, 2008 Kyla rated it it was ok
"Read" should read "skimmed". More academic than I thought, I missed most of the early chapters on analysis and focussed on the DTC ads for Paxil etc. section. Still kinda dull! I like my academics anecdotal, yo.
Jul 15, 2012 Kirstin rated it it was ok
I started this years ago and i still haven't managed to finish it. Nice topic, but could be covered better in something a bit shorter. Who was it who said something about so many good essays being turned into bad books?
Nov 26, 2007 June rated it really liked it
If everyone read this book, noone would take antidepressants. Read this book. Don't take antidepressants.
Dr Deborah
Mar 04, 2017 Dr Deborah rated it it was amazing
A Splendid Achievement

This is a vigorously researched, carefully argued book that will appeal both to clinicians and to a general audience.

As a psychotherapist in practice for 20 years, and as someone who supervises 4th-year psychiatry residents, I welcome the book as the latest addition to a growing arsenal in the fight against overmedicating America.

Christopher Lane tells the story of how social phobia--a serious psychological problem--came to be publicly understood, under the new rubric of
Carol D
Feb 12, 2017 Carol D rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. Loved it.
J. L.
Feb 03, 2017 J. L. rated it it was amazing
I found this book a real eye-opener and also kind of fascinating and disturbing. It tells the story of how a team of psychiatrists put together the diagnostic manual that is now, amazingly, considered an authority the world over (used daily in schools, courts, and prisons, for medical insurance, assessment, etc), even though many of the entries and related discussions were frankly laughable and difficult to take seriously. The author builds a solid case over this confusion. The result of such po ...more
Apr 15, 2008 Vanessa rated it liked it
Recommends it for: folks interested in psychiatry, shy people, anyone considering going on medication
Recommended to Vanessa by: No one - I sniffed it out myself
This is an interesting and comprehensive overview on how shyness and anxiety - two natural states of mind - were turned into "disorders" by a group of psychiatrists brainstorming ideas to stick in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in the 1970s, pressures from society at large to conform to the expectation that everyone be an extrovert, and especially big pharmaceutical companies trying to create a market for their products. The conclusion is that the world, ...more
Jan 21, 2008 Sally rated it liked it
The author holds that many normal behaviors, such as shyness, have been pathologized by the neuropsychiatric community and pharmaceutical industry, thus harming many members of the public. The book details how the process of forming "new" diagnostic catagories was often unscientific and full of personal and professional bias, by examining the correspondence and interviewing many of those involved; and also examins the role of pharmaceutical companies in promoting diagnoses for which they have me ...more
Mar 16, 2008 Jen rated it it was ok
Shelves: didnt-finish
I just couldn't get far into this book - the premise was fascinating (psychiatrists! drug companies! intrigue!) but the language was too dry and the constant footnote and statistic slinging rendered it less accessible than I would have liked. The author also seems to contradict himself a few times in the Introduction (about as far as I made it, although I did read a few pages into each of the chapters). This would have made a great NYT Magazine article, but as a book it lost my interest too quic ...more
Feb 22, 2010 Matthew rated it liked it
disturbing expose on how small-minded people made a normal condition into an "illness". worse on how the drug companies manipulated everyone after-the-fact. but this is dry prose that tells a story we should all already know.
Whitney Waller
Nov 01, 2012 Whitney Waller rated it did not like it
Jan 24, 2009 jen8998 rated it liked it
Nothing new here really. It's basically a critique of the process by which the DSM was formed. The author mainly focuses on the DSM-3 and rarely references the subsequent editions.
Aug 14, 2011 Kris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit polemical, but lucid, revealing. Disturbing.
Nov 28, 2007 Kristin marked it as to-read
On faculty at Northwestern
Ashley rated it liked it
Mar 12, 2014
John Koranek
John Koranek rated it really liked it
Nov 08, 2014
Christopher rated it really liked it
Jul 03, 2012
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Christopher Lane teaches at Northwestern University. A Victorianist by training, he has a secondary interest and specialization in 19th- and 20th-century psychology, psychiatry, and intellectual history, and has held Northwestern’s Pearce Miller Research Professorship.

He is the author of six books, most recently Surge of Piety: Norman Vincent Peale and the Remaking of American Religious Life (Yale
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