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Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  3,214 ratings  ·  152 reviews
The definitive work on the profound and surprising links between manic-depression and creativity, from the bestselling psychologist of bipolar disorders who wrote An Unquiet Mind.

One of the foremost psychologists in America, “Kay Jamison is plainly among the few who have a profound understanding of the relationship that exists between art and madness” (
ebook, 384 pages
Published October 18th 1996 by Free Press (first published January 1st 1996)
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probably the most widely read of her books, i was disappointed. the thesis is that what we now call bi-polar I actually contributes to the artistic temperment and allows them to create the work that they did.

she looks at the people you would expect: woolf, plath, van gogh, etc.

the thing is, i feel very strongly that you can create beautiful works of art without being mentally ill - or while receiving treatment for your illness - so this book kind of rubbed me the wrong way. yes, i think woolf'
Focusing on the relationship between artistic creativity and manic-depressive illness, Touched With Fire is rewarding, interesting and full of information. However, this is a book that requires an effort, expects you to be paying attention fully at all times. This is no quick, relaxing beach read. Jamison brings her scientific and academic background to her subject, which makes for a fascinating but difficult read for anyone lacking her extensive background. Her constant references to scientific ...more
I have often been curious about the saying, 'There is a fine line between genius and madness,' and with that I have continually found myself drawn to the works of writer's poets, artist's, musicians, scientists, philosophers, et all whom are said to have suffered from some sort of mental illness. I have been unconsciously (until recently) been drawn over and over again to this subject, this connection between what this author describes as the 'Artistic Temperament,' and in this case Manic-Depres ...more
Quick rundown on what I got out of this book...It's a heavy read, so you have to be 100% focused 100% of the time, not something you can lounge around and read lightly - but it is very interesting.

Bipolar disorder, along with various other mental illnesses, has long been perceived as an mysterious yet threatening disease, which manifests in extremes of temperament; - ranging from ecstatic highs, to debilitating lows, often seasonal in nature. The link between the artistic temperament and bipolar
Nimue Brown
A fascinating book exploring the complex history between mental health issues and creativity. It’s startling how many icons of creative working had not only personal mental health issues, but family histories laden with suicides and troubled minds. The statistics for mental health problems in poets especially, as opposed to the rest of the populous, are alarming. I’m wary of the archetype of the mad genius, as is the author, to my relief. There’s no suggestion that madness is necessary for creat ...more
Ed Smiley
Kay Redfield Jamison is a renowned psychologist, expert on bipolar (she prefers the term: manic depressive) illness, and is also bipolar herself.
She covers the relationship between creativity and mood disorders sympathetically and without reductionism.

This is non-fiction, so I can describe this without it being a "spoiler" OK?

She does not seek to "explain" creativity in a reductive way as the result of mental illness. (I must mention in passing that some reviewers seemed to have missed the dist
Lori Anderson
I marked this book up and down with a pencil, underlining passage after passage. I read this book trying to understand my depression and while the book is primarily about bipolar, which I don't have, it's full of information that can help someone fighting depression. And if you are trying to figure out where you lie within the spectrum, it's a helpful tool.

As a jewelry designer, glass bead maker, and writer, I've always suspected there was something behind the "artistic temperament", and this bo
This book adds context to Jamison's later and much more personal book, An Unquiet Mind, which she wrote only two years after this one. It also gives me more context for my own life. I am no Byron or Shelley or Van Gogh, but I believe her conclusions about manic-depressive illness and creativity apply to me nonetheless. Jamison really GETS it; her books make me feel less lonely. And not only does she totally get it; she is incredibly articulate about it. Highly recommend everything she has writte ...more
An illuminating look, in detail, at what we know (or knew, as of 1996) about the connections between manic depression & artistic creativity. My gut reaction was to assume this connection was imaginary, but the science says otherwise. The book's term-paper structure makes for relatively slow, but very interesting, read.
Raegan Butcher
Apr 22, 2008 Raegan Butcher rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: crazy artists
Interesting ramble thru the mental wards of art and literature to see the effects of mental illness on a wide variety of artists, painters, poets, writers and other assorted misfits.
It's become something of a game in the popular media to diagnose long-dead artists with various chronic illnesses, in particular neurological and mental disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. In this well-researched book, Jamison takes this beyond idle speculation and, using family histories, evidence from the artists' works (particularly those of poets and writers), and personal papers, compelling argues that manic-depressive (AKA bipolar) disorder has play ...more
Jeff Holt
Quite interesting so far. What keeps this book from being a five star work for me, at the outset, is thas the author is, much of the time, going back into the works of poets from 200-300 years ago and making suggestions regarding possible diagnoses for said poets based both upon the content of their work and upon biographies and anecdotal evidence. However, the authori also quotes numerous current studies, and brings out some surprising statistics: poets, even moreso than those in the dramatic a ...more
I came in pretty skeptical of Jamison's thesis, which sounded way too romantic for a serious disorder, and of her methods, especially attempts to posthumously construct diagnoses based on artists' biographical data and creative output. She handles both of those issues deftly, though, and with a combination of modern scientific research and well-chosen quotations and anecdotes, presents a nuanced, persuasive overview of bipolar symptoms correlating with artistic productivity. I'm thoroughly impre ...more
Charlie L
This is a highly-detailed discussion of the relationship between artists and manic-depressive illnesses. It covers every aspect I could think of regarding the relationship between these two and presents research findings in a straightforward way. It is particularly refreshing in that it weaves back and forth between science and art: not only does it use extensive research to support its points, but it is filled with prose and poetry that gives artful support. Highly recommended for anyone intere ...more
Cameron Gordon forbes
An inspiring book for the mentally ill and for that reason i award if 5 stars. Though in the vast majority of cases examined here the family history of the individual had as much if not greater influence on the incident of depressive illness as any creative talent.Still, it shows what people, who would otherwise have been wrote off by society can achieve by picking up a pen or a brush. Not all great artists are mad. But the mad can become great artists.
Nina Pace
An amazing insight into the bipolar temperament and its relationship with creative ability. Allows a fantastic glimpse into the heightened senses of people with this mental illness, and attempts to reveal the long family lineages of famous artists and writers suffering this condition. A challenging but worthwhile read for anybody interested in mental illness and/or creativity.
Debra Valentino
One of Jamison's earliest books, but she's always a consummate researcher and a conscientious writer. I love her work, and have read nearly everything she's published. In my opinion, she's that good (though her memoir is not her best work). If you enjoy poetry or are interested in the lives of poets and writers, this is a fascinating study.
Darlene Cypser
This is a fabulous exploration of the potential link.between creative genius and what others might call madness. It is extremely well-written book intended for the non-scientific audience. Commentators who claimed it was written for scientists obviously have never read any scientific papers, nor much in the way of literature.
Κατερίνα Τσαγκαράκη
Το βιβλίο βρίθει λογοτεχνικών αποσπασμάτων διασήμων συγγραφέων που, περιγράφοντας τις συναισθηματικές τους διακυμάνσεις, συνεισφέρουν στη θέση της συγγραφέως.
Περισσότερα εδώ:
This was a great book! So many great artistic minds moving at incredible speed to create masterpieces... and then the crash. I read it over 10 years ago and then gave it away so can't refer to it now. I highly reccomend it! Musicians, Poets, Artists, etc...
I added both editions, oops.
any way. This has been touted as the book to read on the bipolar-manic-depressive/ cyclothymia spectrum of mental illness or craziness as we call it. The 'fine madness' which affect artists and why is it...Of course KRJ's (author) is considered special to write this book as she is a professor and researcher of mental disorder and is reportedly afflicted with Bi-polar or something.
While it is an interesting list of studies and opinions of quite well known writer and so
A heavy book to read; I couldn't sit down and read it all in one sitting.

After studying bipolar disorder and creativity a bit more closely for one of my college classes and comparing it (mental illness and creativity) to contemporary studies and reviews, there is no direct correlation that can be said that having a mental illness means you're more likely to be creative than anybody else. My thesis, when doing my own research, was not that an individual was more likely to be more creative, but r
Jamison's thesis is that artists are disproportionately manic-depressive -- that manic-depressive illness and to a lesser extent unipolar depression are correlated with creativity. She presented study after study to this effect, but most of them had vanishingly small sample sizes or other gaping flaws; she also tells us in passing that 25% of studies in the literature find no relationship between mental illness and creativity, but she doesn't present any of those. I believe her thesis, but the " ...more
Gordon Hilgers
It's surprising to know how many poets, writers and artists have suffered from what Kay Redfield Jamison labels "manic depression". Jamison describes the highs and lows, the psychoses and travails that come with Bipolar I and II and then gives us a cavalcade of famous poets and writers who suffered their entire lives with the illness: Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats, Lowell, Hemingway, Plath, Sexton, and many many others.

Exploring the linkage between highly creative individuals and manic depressive
Dr. Jamison is a fine writer and the I am interested in the general topic but for whatever reason I found the book less engaging than I expected to. A major problem for me was that Dr. Jamison kept on writing statements like (not a direct quote but close enough), "Although study XYZ have methodological limitations, they showed/trended to show..." The problem with basing arguments on poor data is that (obviously) one's conclusions may not be valid, i.e., a bunch of bad studies add up to a bunch o ...more
I saw this title in a bibliography and was immediately intrigued. Although the content is thick [I had to read paragraphs several times], it's a good read. Jamison gives good examples of writers and artists who have suffered with manic-depression, i.e. Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh, Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf, etc. Artists are quickly maligned as different from the "norm" - sometimes you will hear a person say about an artist, "Oh, well you know, they are an artsy type - it's not surprising you ...more
I like this book.
The mad artist stereotype is still prevalent.
This book makes a convincing argument that this stereotype is not pure fiction.
It's challenging reading if as an artist you have struggled with demons, and wondered whether they were your strength or your weakness.
It's an exciting index of the most turbulent parts of these artists lives and work.
It also raises some thought provoking ethical questions about the treatment and curing of mental illness.
this book provides an amazing insight to the most creative minds of the romantic,and victorian, era. Published works and personal letters written to and by various composers, authors, and painters are evaluated and their genealogy thoroughly examined.

it's an amazing read and allows you to experience various artists with a new profound understanding.
Definitely very interesting, especially since she details the mental health history of the family of Alfred Lord Tennyson. This is becoming worth a re-read since I found out that I am related to some of the artists and writers she covers here, including Tennyson. It does tend to ramble a bit and seems to lose focus in places.
victoria hampton
This book explains how those labelled mentally ill are many times the most brillant among us. A good read as we all could benefit by being more tolerant of those we don't understand.
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Kay Redfield Jamison (born June 22, 1946) is an American clinical psychologist and writer who is one of the foremost experts on bipolar disorder. She is Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is an Honorary Professor of English at the University of St Andrews.
More about Kay Redfield Jamison...
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide Nothing Was the Same Exuberance: The Passion for Life An Unquiet Mind:a Memoir of Mood and Madness

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“Who would not want an illness that has among its symptoms elevated and expansive mood, inflated self-esteem, abundance of energy, less need for sleep, intensified sexuality, and- most germane to our argument here-"sharpened and unusually creative thinking" and "increased productivity"?” 14 likes
“When energy is profoundly dissipated, the ability to think is clearly eroded, and the capacity to actively engage in the efforts and pleasures of life is fundamentally altered, then depression becomes an illness rather than a temporary or existential state.” 1 likes
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