Synopses & Reviews
It is well known that American culture is a dominant force at home and abroad; our exportation of everything from movies to junk food is a well-documented phenomenon. But is it possible America's most troubling impact on the globalizing world has yet to be accounted for? In Crazy Like Us
, Ethan Watters reveals that the most devastating consequence of the spread of American culture has not been our golden arches or our bomb craters but our bulldozing of the human psyche itself: We are in the process of homogenizing the way the world goes mad.
America has been the world leader in generating new mental health treatments and modern theories of the human psyche. We export our psychopharmaceuticals packaged with the certainty that our biomedical knowledge will relieve the suffering and stigma of mental illness. We categorize disorders, thereby defining mental illness and health, and then parade these seemingly scientific certainties in front of the world. The blowback from these efforts is just now coming to light: It turns out that we have not only been changing the way the world talks about and treats mental illness -- we have been changing the mental illnesses themselves.
For millennia, local beliefs in different cultures have shaped the experience of mental illness into endless varieties. Crazy Like Us documents how American interventions have discounted and worked to change those indigenous beliefs, often at a dizzying rate. Over the last decades, mental illnesses popularized in America have been spreading across the globe with the speed of contagious diseases. Watters travels from China to Tanzania to bring home the unsettling conclusion that the virus is us: As we introduce Americanized ways of treating mental illnesses, we are in fact spreading the diseases.
In post-tsunami Sri Lanka, Watters reports on the Western trauma counselors who, in their rush to help, inadvertently trampled local expressions of grief, suffering, and healing. In Hong Kong, he retraces the last steps of the teenager whose death sparked an epidemic of the American version of anorexia nervosa. Watters reveals the truth about a multi-million-dollar campaign by one of the world's biggest drug companies to change the Japanese experience of depression -- literally marketing the disease along with the drug.
But this book is not just about the damage we've caused in faraway places. Looking at our impact on the psyches of people in other cultures is a gut check, a way of forcing ourselves to take a fresh look at our own beliefs about mental health and healing. When we examine our assumptions from a farther shore, we begin to understand how our own culture constantly shapes and sometimes creates the mental illnesses of our time. By setting aside our role as the world's therapist, we may come to accept that we have as much to learn from other cultures' beliefs about the mind as we have to teach.
"In crisp journalistic style, Watters argues convincingly that what the American psychiatric industry exports is not so much drugs as diseases." --Mother Jones
"I couldn't put it down. Crazy Like Us is a fascinating and provocative intellectual travelogue, and Watters is a fearless guide." -- Alan Burdick, author of Out of Eden
"Ethan Watters has traveled the world to look at how globalization reaches far beyond economics and into people's very conceptions of what constitutes health and sanity. I find his book provocative, original, and convincing." -- Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains and King Leopold's Ghost
"Watters commands attention with his repartee and conversational manner while drawing much-needed attention to the consequences of Western intrusion. This fascinating book deserves attention from mental health workers and Americans interested in the reach of their culture’s psyche across the globe."-- Library Journal
"A devastating account of America's psychological adventures abroad. The stories Watters tells will move you, surprise you, and occasionally infuriate you, and they will change the way you think about culture, human nature, and the mind." -- Paul Tough, author of Whatever it Takes
"...in addition to the cultural flotsam that drives the rest of the world crazy, America is literally exporting its mental illnesses...[Watters] is on to something worth pondering." --Time magazine
"Crazy Like Us is both groundbreaking and shocking...Whether Watters' book will be sand in the engines of the bulldozers remains to be seen. At least it proves the West, despite its best intentions, does not possess all the answers."--The Boston Globe
"Crazy Like Us is a blistering and truly original work of reporting and analysis, uncovering America's role in homogenizing how the world defines wellness and healing." -- Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock
"Ethan Watters has a truly original take on the way our country shapes the expression of mental illness around the globe. His is one of those books you can't stop thinking about or referring to in conversation, that permanently changes your perspective on beliefs you took for granted." -- Peggy Orenstein, author of Waiting for Daisy
"Searing, startling, and utterly unforgettable. Ethan Watters brilliantly surveys the stark interior cost of globalization, from our export of stress disorders to Sri Lanka to our marketing of depression in Japan as 'a cold of the soul.' Crazy Like Us is a grand tour of the new global psyche, distorted and darkened by the export of the American dream." -- Jason Roberts, National Book Critics Circle finalist for A Sense of the World
Journalist Watters explores the globalization of the American psyche.
About the Author
Ethan Watters is the author of Urban Tribes, an examination of the mores of the "never-marrieds," and the coauthor of Making Monsters, a groundbreaking indictment of the recovered memory movement. A frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Discover, Men's Journal, Wired, and This American Life, he lives in San Francisco with his wife and children.