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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  4,714 ratings  ·  230 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” (William Styron).

Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 18th 1996 by Free Press (first published January 1st 1996)
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Robert Fawcett As Kay Jamison's book Touched with Fire describes there is an association between bipolar disorder and artistic achievements in language, visual, and …moreAs Kay Jamison's book Touched with Fire describes there is an association between bipolar disorder and artistic achievements in language, visual, and musical arts. But simply being bipolar does not mean you will be a great artist. Bipolar writers like Hemingway put in lots of hours developing his craft with good mentors for his terse journalistic style. Generally antidepressants alone with an accompanying mood stabilizer(like lithium, lamotrigine, Depakote) can provoke more manias. Robert Fawcett MD, author of Calming the Bipolar Storm (less)

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Jul 05, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
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'
Being depressed and being an artist, it's quiet a connection; it’s hard. But being depressed and maniac, it powers a lot more a terrible state of being, I mean, for artists.

This is an exhaustive look (and study) at those connections. As you read, you will wonder about the side-by-side presence of genius and malady, of the most beautiful art productions and the agony of psychological suffering. All cases have impressed me, but most of all were the cases of poet Lord Tennyson and the musician Rob
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
Ed Smiley
Jan 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Aurélien Thomas
'The basic argument of this book is not that all writers and artists are depressed, suicidal, or manic. It is, rather, that a greatly disproportionate number of them are; that the manic-depressive and artistic temperaments are, in many ways, overlapping ones; and, that the two temperaments are causally related to one another.'

'Touched with Fire' is a passionate discussion of what is creativity, and how it can be served by the cognitive processes and moods involved in depression and manic/ hypoma
Nimue Brown
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting insights here. There is a danger, of course, in romanticizing biopolar disorder as some kind of marker of creativity. It's worth pointing out that there are many creative people who don't suffer from the horrors of bipolar disorder, and many people with bipolar who are not creative.

That should probably be said again: being bipolar is not romantic; it is many things, but few of them are actually enjoyable. The fact that some bipolar folks find creative ways to express themselves despi
Sep 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Lori Anderson
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Debra Valentino
Jan 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
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
Sarah Embaby
I think it's brilliant with all the backgrounds and the back-ups statics.... the accuracy is very good
it's also very recommended to psychological-researchers and students......
Personally, I'd spent the latter 6 years suffering of the Manic-depressive Illness..... Though I have no Idea, it was an illness or what's happening? All I know I was suffering in melancholy alone
But to face something you don't know, is very terrifying in itself
you have no Idea how your mood change and your hypomania star
Aug 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: re-read, 2019
I read this some time ago, and the take-home message only served to underscore the stereotype of The Artist as a tragic figure of tortured genius. Romanticizing mental illness is neither productive nor helpful when discussing it in the context of daily life. Pithy bits of poetry to set the mood at the start of each chapter just felt belittling. Attributing some level of artistic mastery to illness undermines the hard work it takes to achieve that level of skill.
I'd rank it half a star if I coul
Cameron Gordon forbes
Sep 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: therapy
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... ...more
Raegan Butcher
Apr 21, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
Mar 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: madness, nonfiction
"Although manic-depressive illness is much more common in writers and artists than in the general population, it would be irresponsible to romanticize am extremely painful, destructive and lethal disease. Most people who suffer from manic-depressive and depressive illness are not unusually creative, and they reap few benefits from their experiences of mania and depression; even those who are highly creative usually seek relief from their suffering."

The author wrote this on page 207 of her 260 pa
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, non-fiction
I had heard that Dr Jamison has a tendency to romanticise mood disorders, but I didn't understand how true that was until I read this book. Knowing she herself was diagnosed with bipolar helps me understand even more. I'm type two bipolar, so none of the information in the book was very new to me, and a lot of the stuff she'd talk about would be discussed over and over. Some of the anecdotes from bipolar artists, poets, and writers were pretty interesting, but what I was hoping for were answers, ...more
Jun 06, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
Kay Redfield Jamison has written a highly engaging book about BiPolar illness in connection with creativity and artists of all stripes. This book helped me identify my own condition as manic-depressive (as I am an artist as well) eight years before I as actually diagnosed as such by a Cornell trained psychiatrist. In other words, reading this was better than eight years of dealing with mental health professionals. So I highly recommend the book.

However, one think that has increasingly bothered
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
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
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nina Pace
Jun 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Darlene Cypser
May 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I love this book!
I've read and re-read it several times . It shows that despite illness these artists throughout history have created some of the most beautiful works of art (paintings, poetry, novels) and shows that because of or in spite of they must create!
Jul 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
For me, this was a difficult book, both for the subject matter and due to my proximity to the topic. I have started and stopped reading Touched with Fire many times over a number of years, but after finally completing a read, I can say that finishing the book was worth it.

Redfield Jamison interweaves an often dense academic discussion of the bipolar spectrum, as it relates to creativity, with accounts of how that spectrum brings itself to bear on artists, poets, and writers. Some of the terminol
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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.

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