Jonathan SadowskyJan 5, 2021
The Empire of Depression
A New History
When is sorrow sickness? That is the question that this book asks, exploring how our understandings of sadness, melancholy, depression, mania and anxiety have changed over time, and how societies have tried to treat something which lies on the border between the natural and the pathological. Jonathan Sadowsky's book The Empire of Depression: A New History (Polity, 2020) explores the various medical treatments for depression, classed as a modern illness with definite (but changing) symptoms from the 20th century onwards, in relation to a longer history of treatments for ‘melancholia’ and related states considered either as biological or social sicknesses or as a natural part of some people’s constitution. He also compares the western history of medicalising depression with the experiences of both sadness and clinical depression in non-western cultures, such as Nigeria and Japan. He asks, what have we lost as a consequence of the hegemony of the western clinical model, and how can we reclaim the patient experience in the face of sometimes hostile doctors and pharmaceutical companies? The book is poetic but well-researched, written by a leading medical historian, and distinguished from the crowd of books about depression through its global focus, and its historical rigour.
C.J. Valasek is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology & Science Studies at the University of California San Diego.