Books : American Mania : Reviews & Press

“[Whybrow] sees our economy as a recent perversion of nature.  Temperament and character are different, he argues.  Genes shape temperament, but culture shapes character.  American energy and self-interest may be innate, but our crazy society converts our temperament into crazy work hours… Our culture is misdirecting our biology… To Whybrow the price is too high.  Too many people are exploited, neglected, indebted, time-starved and sick… His analysis is coherent and documented.”
New York Times Book Review
“Whybrow… uses psychiatric and evolutionary lenses to peer into the radical dysfunctionalness of contemporary versions of the American dream.  When we pursue the dream of material prosperity and the status it accords… we may be inadvertently destroying the very conditions that will make such prosperity possible for future generations.”

New York Times - Feature Story

In New Book, Professor Sees 'Mania' in U.S.

Published: March 12, 2005

"Aldous Huxley long ago warned of a future in which love was beside the point and happiness simply a measure of consuming mass-produced goods and plenty of soma, a drug engineered for pleasure…Whybrow has seen the future, and the society he describes isn’t all that distant from Huxley’s brave new world, although the soma, it seems is in ourselves..."

Los Angeles Times - Feature Story

Hard-Wired for Wretched Excess

Published: March 13, 2005


Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

The indictment of American society offered here — that America's supercharged free-market capitalism shackles us to a treadmill of overwork and overconsumption, frays family and community ties and leaves us anxious, alienated and overweight — is familiar. What's more idiosyncratic and compelling is the author's grounding his treatise in political economy (citing everyone from Adam Smith to Thorstein Veblen) as well as in neuropsychiatry, primatology and genetics. Psychiatrist Whybrow (Mood Apart ) diagnoses a form of clinical mania in which "the dopamine reward systems of the brain are... hijacked" by pleasurable frenzies like the Internet bubble. Genes are to blame: programmed to crave material rewards on the austere savanna, they go bananas in an economy of superabundance. Americans are particularly susceptible because they are descended from immigrants with a higher frequency of the "exploratory and novelty-seeking D4-7 allele" in the dopamine receptor system, which predisposes them to impulsivity and addiction. The malady is "treatable," Whybrow asserts, not with Paxil but with a vaguely defined program of communitarianism and recovery therapeutics, exemplified by his friends Peanut, a farmer rooted in the land, and Tom, a formerly manic entrepreneur who has learned to live in the present moment. Whybrow's analysis of the contemporary rat race is acute, and by medicalizing the problem he locates it in behavior and genetics — away from the arena of conventional political and economic action where more systemic solutions might surface, but toward a place where individual responsibility can turn "self-interest into social fellowship."

Agent, Zoe Pagnamenta. (Jan.)

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“This is a fantastically important book. It helps illuminate crucial factors, both genetic and social, that have set us up for our current personal turmoils. More, it forces us to face what may be the century’s most challenging question: Are we going to try and remake people to fit into the lightspeed culture we have inadvertently created, or are we going to try and reshape that culture to fit who we are?”
“In American Mania, Whybrow proves once again that we have among us the sparks of generalist genius to light the route to deliverance. This profound, engrossing—and entertaining—volume, discloses relationships of history, economics, social science and biology to make clear how we can counter the confusions of need and greed that so imperil us.”
American Mania is an astute and persuasive account of the stress, overwork, and rampant dissatisfaction permeating modern America. Whybrow, a distinguished psychiatrist and writer, provides his unique perspective on the perils of compromising personal happiness for material glut and national idealism for unthinking consumption. American Mania is an important book for our driven times.”
“This is a brilliant book, which provides convincing genetic explanation for American exceptionalism.”
“Whybrow, a sort of modern Tocqueville, delivers a trenchant indictment of our dominant values and mores, polemical but balanced, with vigorous inspiration and gripping intensity.”
“Imagine the conjunction of Charles Darwin and Adam Smith in the 21st century.  The result, at least in Whybrow’s hands, is a provocative and novel meditation on the American fate, as we struggle with depression, obesity and substance abuse in the midst of unparalleled prosperity and opportunity.”
“With accessible style and sophisticated scholarship, Whybrow weaves a fascinating tapestry of fresh insights from psychiatry, anthropology, economics, neuro biology, and genetics to provide the reader with a scientific understanding of why the increasing unraveling of our familial and social networks is making us sick.”
“If you’re still able, slowly step away from the ATM machine, quietly redeem your thoughts from the Jones family, joyously reclaim your time from the work-and-spend circus, and simply relish this book to find out what American Mania is doing to us all and what can be done about it.”