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Listening to Prozac

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,315 ratings  ·  71 reviews
Since it was introduced in 1987, Prozac has been prescribed to nearly five million Americans. But what is Prozac—a medication, or a mental steroid? A cure for depression, or a drug that changes personality? Reported to turn shy people into social butterflies and to improve work performance, memory, even dexterity, does Prozac work on character rather than illness? Are you ...more
Paperback, Revised Edition, 448 pages
Published September 1st 1997 by Penguin Books (first published 1993)
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 ·  1,315 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Aug 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
In desperate need of a cognitive scientist

JDB 2456527 PDT 10:52.

A review of Listening to Prozac by Peter D. Kramer.

This was a book with great potential, but it failed to live up to most of that potential. The fundamental idea is a profound one that I wish more people would think about: What does cognitive science say about human nature?
The problem is that Kramer is not a cognitive scientist, he is a practicing psychiatrist. All of his understanding of the brain and mind is filtered through that
This excellent book, written when Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants were relatively new, is at times a little dated but still extremely interesting. Kramer is a phsychiatrist who had been treating patients with depression and other problems for years when Prozac became available. Prozac did not have the same severely limiting side effects that plagued the other antidepressants then available, which made it easier and safer to prescribe for patients who might normally have avoided medication. ...more
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
For years and years, I believed the negative hype about anti-depressants. Even though I have friends who have benefitted from the use of the drug, I stayed skeptical.

I am glad I came across this book. There was so much I didn't know about the history of the drug, how it came to be, how it works. The author also covers the background of psychotherapy in great depth, as well as research being done on the brain and how much of our anxiety and depression is a result of biological factors. Fascinatin
Dec 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
An interesting exploration of how drugs like Prozac change personality in some patients (making shy people not shy in some cases) and how human beings are biological creatures who can be changed by chemistry. Most interesting for me (since the book may be some what dated science wise) were the passages about how contemporary life requires a certain kind of personality--outgoing, quick thinking, multi-tasking--that is a relatively recent development. Considering how certain personality types migh ...more
Chris Gager
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm kind of bouncing around from book to book lately. My mother made a mild suggestion to me back in the early nineties(I think) that I investigate using Prozac. She must have read some article about how it'd turned peoples' lives around. Unfortunately, at the time I was still in my mode of mental-emotional disconnection from being able to see, feel and acknowledge my own burden of depression. I'd "only" ever had one episode of near-suicidal depression. That was in the mid-1970's and I never tol ...more
Jul 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
I appreciate the depth to which Kramer dove into the ethical questions surrounding Prozac and other "anti-depressants" (he deconstructs this term in order to explain these drugs without preconceived notions). While it wasn't the easiest read (many detailed case studies and scientific terms), he does a great job keeping an open mind and helping you to develop your own opinion.

Something I had not thought of before reading this is that different societies and eras prize different personality types
Grady Hendrix
Dr. Peter D. Kramer doesn't know how Prozac works, or even exactly what it does, and he's not 100% sure it doesn't have any side effects, but he really, really, really thinks you should be taking it.
Meadows13 Meadows
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
I heard this author interviewed on NPR when the book first came out. I was fascinated by the concepts that he brought up regarding the ethical, philosophical, and sociological ramifications of treating minor mood disorders with psychopharmaceuticals (Prozac just being one). I finally found the book in a used book store and enjoyed it very much.

Some portions are more intersting than others, but that's SOP for a book of this type. Different readers won't agree on the good/bad parts. It depends on
Evan Herberth
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book on thymoleptics, especially on SSRIs, and on the questions they evoke about the nature of the self. What properties are intrinsic to self? Are unsavory aspects of personality like high rejection-sensitivity so essential to one's person that it'd be wrong to medicate that away without a clear diagnosis of a recognized mental illness? Will these drugs pressure folks who aren't in need to take them to conform to societal standards that the drugs help one come into conformity with? ...more
Jan 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
In exploring the role of experience on mood, in chapter five Kramer turns to various observations on "rapid-cycling." Certain people have been observed to swing back and forth between dark depression and wild euphoria in a matter of hours, seemingly with very small (or no) external provocations (pp.108-109).

Kramer applies three models, which he sees are interconnecting, to this issue. First, Kramer summarizes the finding of Robert Post and his "kindling model." Post's work concluded that rapid-
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Peter D. Kramer explores an important question: "Is the person who is anxious and confused less pathological than the one who is complacent and tranquilized?" In layman's terms, what is real and what is not? Dr. Kramer's in-depth look at the before and after pictures of real-case histories are helpful, but not all inclusive evidence for or against such pharmacological methods. Other questions are raised. Can the here-to-fore pathological murderer be stopped before he starts with chemical met ...more
Oct 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely superb and incisive foray by one psychiatrist into how SSRI's have turned psychiatry on its head - patient transformations that previously took 5 or 10 years of therapy can now be accomplished with a pill in 2 weeks.

You don't have to be sick to benefit from this technology either. One can now mix and match neuropharmacological agents to induce near any kind of state - tailor made to achieving material results, friendships, or just the kind of mental state one might want.

Of course, Dr.
starts of interesting then just gets padded to book length.
Aug 27, 2018 marked it as to-keep-reference
In Listening to Prozac, Peter Kramer presents case studies of his patients whose long-standing depression or anxiety was cured by Prozac, and whose personalities then bloomed— greater self-confidence, greater resilience in the face of setbacks, and more joy, all of which sometimes led
to big changes in careers and relationships. These cases conform to an idealized medical narrative: person suffers from lifelong disease; medical breakthrough cures disease; person released from shackles, celebrates
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: self-help
this is a rather old book that came out within several years of the emergence of Prozac. it raises some interesting questions about mind and brain as well as gives a lot of history into the making of medications for depression and anxiety.

having been on Prozac for five years it misses some huge aspects of taking it. the side effects are not minimal as this book declares them to be.

I look forward to reading "Talking back to Prozac" but am glad to have read this book first.
Stephanie Perez
Aug 19, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting read on the deep effects of Prozac and the moral and ethical questions regarding personality change. From a psychiatric lens the book provides a great basis as to why Prozac is beneficial in treating depression and anxiety. It alludes to a more profound conversation on human consciousness and the image of self. Yet, it stays focused on the fact that indeed antidepressants can transform the outlook/being of person through chemical intervention.
Circul Wyrd
Oct 26, 2019 rated it did not like it
Bomb. The picture on the cover, of a humanoid having severed their own head, might be a clue. I'm just saying. Rather, or at the very minimum, simultaneously, consider reading also, Let Them Eat Prozac, by David Healy, in which the sordid underbelly of the history of the SSRI line of antidepressants is, in my not so humble opinion, brought within sight of daylight. Ablixa, anyone?
Sara Gettel
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Covers the history of Prozac, varied uses outside of major depression and what was known in the early 90s about the heritability and environmental causes of depression/anxiety. Also covers a lot of philosophical questions about the nature of the self and when psychoactive drugs are merited.

It's interesting but dense and a little tedious at times.
Kate Hanson
Oct 01, 2020 rated it liked it
A little hard to read, but I remember a few profound quotes standing out to me. Makes you question America’s obsession with diagnosing and prescribing pills as a simple fix for life’s more complex problems
Grace Dadoyan
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
A little technical but a great book for anyone hesitant to take an SSRI or anyone who wants to learn more about SSRIs.
Nov 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very interesting - though possibly just a book-length ad for prozac? Huge if true.
Dec 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
I like this book because it is (mostly) readable by a general audience but asks some seriously philosophical questions about our attitudes toward drugs and about the way we expect other people to act in our society.

Kramer points out that ethical dilemmas about psychotropic medications will become (or have already become) different than they have been in the past. Often, the question of taking or prescribing a given medication turned on a weighing of pros and cons, desired effects vs likely side
It always takes me longer to read Non-fiction titles. Even moreso Non-fiction books that relate to me in particular. I do not/ nor have ever taken Prozac myself, but I am being shaped by my Anxiety/Depression and am currently on an Antidepressant. What made this book difficult for me to read was the scientific and medical terminology he used. Now granted it makes me feel a whole lot smarter having gotten through all that stuff even though I needed to stop from time to time to look up the meaning ...more
Wendy Reiersen
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
I got lots of remarks from people who noticed the illustration on the front cover and wondered what I was reading. This book gives a lot of background about psychotropics and how they work, what they do, etc. I learned a lot. The author seems in favor of antidepressants, and admits to prescribing them for people who wanted them even though they weren't actually depressed. I still was not convinced that they are the answer for everybody, even everybody who suffers from depression.

I also apprecia
Jesse Passler
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Despite being outdated, still a relevant discussion. Anecdotal stories and neurobiological theorizing is fascinating in the book and was some of the best material I've read on the subject. Towards the end, the author gets in to a repetitive and rote philosophical discussion of the medications effect on personality and what this means to be human (almost as a display of his psychoanalytic and pedantic knowledge), which was much-a-do about nothing for me (I disagreed with the author's stance, and ...more
May 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Kramer is a psychiatrist who decided to write down some of the thoughts that grew in him over the years that Prozac first became popular. The two words everybody seems to use to describe the book are 'thoughtful' and 'even-handed,' and I'm pretty much in agreement with that. He does a great job of starting to think through the broader implications of the availability of personality-changing drugs and provides a number of interesting anecdotes from his own practice that illustrate what makes them ...more
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: forsaken
I think that this book would have really enthralled me if I had read it back in 1993 when if first came out.

It is basically a psychiatrist's experience with Prozac which was a new antidepressant around that time. It was one of the early SSRIs that came out on the market that people had a lot of success with.

I don't want to criticize this book at all. It is well written and full of interesting information. It just isn't that interesting to me because I have read so much of the current literature
Nov 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
it is a very unique look at drug therapy through historical research into the discovery of key drugs as well as case studies of those treated by anti depresssents, and other drugs. Explores issues beyond depression, anxiety, phobias, schizo affective disorders, and stress cause neurotransmitters to effect personality change.

philosophically it read me to another excellent book Walker Percy's "Thanatos Syndrome" which Kramer mentions as an example of drugs shortcutting true personality growth.
Clarissa Lynn
Jun 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: mental-health
A bit arduous and dry at times but still relevant for anybody in the mental health field or interested in psychopharmocolgy. I would give five stars to the last three chapters as Kramer explores self-esteem, hedonism, and the concept of personality enhancement (i.e., steroids for mood, autonomy and the like)...
I'll conclude with a snippet from one of my favorite debates dealing with the issue of conformity, societial cultural values, and psychotropics: "Prozac highlights our culture's preference
Oct 16, 2008 rated it liked it
First, I enjoyed this book. It was well written and not hard to understand. I would give it a higher rating for those qualities, but it gets a three because even though the author is questioning some of the overuse of Prozac, he still overuses it--in my opinion--himself. I do think it's a timely book, but it doesn't go far enough to warn people about the dangers of over medication with psychiatric meds.
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