Synopses & Reviews
Psychiatry has ignored the normal. The focus on defining abnormal behavior has obscured what turns out to be a more fundamental question—how does the biology of the brain give rise to the mind, which in turn gives rise to everything we care about: thoughts, feelings, desires, and relationships?
In The Other Side of Normal, Harvard psychiatrist Jordan Smoller shows us that understanding what the mind was designed to do in the first place demystifies mental illness and builds a new foundation for defining psychiatric disorders—from autism to depression. Smoller argues there are no bright lines between normal and abnormal. Psychiatric disorders are variations of the same brain systems that evolved to help us solve the challenges of everyday life.
How do we become who we are? Smoller explains where our personalities come from, and how the temperaments we had as infants actually stay with us into adulthood. Why do we choose to date, love, and marry the people we do? Why do some of us form healthy relationships while others form unstable ones? Our relationships are shaped by the biology that drives two imperatives: maternal-child bonding and child-parent attachment.
Along the way, Smoller tackles an even greater question—what do we mean by "normal"?—as he explores the puzzles behind the epidemics of multiple personalities and koro, the shocking phobia that one's penis is shrinking. He also looks at the controversial history of psychiatric classification and the explosive debates over how much early experiences influence our minds and to what degree genetics affect our temperaments, personalities, and emotional lives. Throughout this examination, Smoller explores the hidden sides of such questions as: How are trust and love rooted in biology? How much does sexual attraction stem from biology rather than culture? And what can the scientific study of normal behavior tell us about what it means to be human?
Based on the author's groundbreaking research and personal experiences treating psychological disorders, The Other Side of Normal changes the way we think about the human condition.
"The premise of this exciting book by Smoller, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is as simple as it is provocative: 'Rather than constructing disorders by labeling the extremes the troubled mind and the broken brain we must start with an understanding of the normal.' As he so well explains, normal isn't a singular form of behavior or feeling but a range on a broader spectrum. Similarly, there is no single point at which normal becomes abnormal in all situations. Smoller says that understanding the evolutionary roots of human brain functioning and behavior is essential to defining 'normal.' Clearly and articulately, tying evolutionary psychology, biological psychiatry, animal behavior, and related fields into a package of rare coherence, he integrates cutting-edge research with case studies of his own patients. By exploring the origins of emotions such as trust, fear, love, and empathy, he forces us to think about what it means to cross the line from normal to abnormal. And he does a remarkable job of ensuring that we revisit and improve both the concept of pathology and its treatment. 11 illus. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Move over Oliver Sacks - I couldn't put this fascinating book down! I was especially gripped by the parts relating to parenting, but the book has profoundly challenging implications for human behavior more generally. A brilliant mind and dazzling writer, Smoller makes complicated science understandable and riveting for any reader. " Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and New York Times bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
“Exciting... provocative...Clearly and articulately, he ties evolutionary psychology, biological psychiatry, animal behavior, and related fields into a package of rare coherence.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Move over Oliver Sacks - I couldnt put this fascinating book down! Path-breaking and witty, as entertaining as it is informative, The Other Side of Normal is filled with insights into why we behave as we do and how biology determines so much of our emotional makeup. A brilliant mind and dazzling writer, Smoller has written a book that will change the way you look at every day life.” Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and New York Times bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
“Highly interesting and accessible study of brain science and behavior....This thoroughly documented work provides enough information to satisfy the science-savvy without leaving the rest of us behind....Readers will be fascinated.” Library Journal
“An informative overview of research in neuroscience that provides a scientific foundation for understanding mental disorders.” Kirkus Reviews
“Smoller redefines the biology of normal.” Booklist
“Are we born crazy, or is crazy thrust upon us? Smoller investigates.” Denver Post
In this enthralling work of popular science, respected Harvard psychiatrist Jordan Smoller addresses one of humankinds most enduring and perplexing questions: What does it mean to be “normal?” In The Other Side of Normal, Smoller explores the biological component of normalcy, revealing the hidden side of our everyday behaviors—why we love what we love and fear what we fear. Other bestselling works of neurobiology and the mind have focused on mental illness and abnormal behaviors—like the Oliver Sacks classic, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat—but The Other Side of Normal is an eye-opening, thought-provoking, utterly fascinating and totally accessible exploration of the universals of human experience. It will change forever our understanding of who we are and what makes us that way.
About the Author
Jordan Smoller is associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.