Synopses & Reviews
A riveting, revelatory, and moving account of the author’s struggles with anxiety, and of the history of efforts by scientists, philosophers, and writers to understand the condition.
As recently as thirty-five years ago, anxiety did not exist as a diagnostic category. Today, it is the most common form of officially classified mental illness. Scott Stossel gracefully guides us across the terrain of an affliction that is pervasive yet too often misunderstood.
Drawing on his own long-standing battle with anxiety, Stossel presents an astonishing history, at once intimate and authoritative, of the efforts to understand the condition from medical, cultural, philosophical, and experiential perspectives. He ranges from the earliest medical reports of Galen and Hippocrates, through later observations by Robert Burton and Søren Kierkegaard, to the investigations by great nineteenth-century scientists, such as Charles Darwin, William James, and Sigmund Freud, as they began to explore its sources and causes, to the latest research by neuroscientists and geneticists. Stossel reports on famous individuals who struggled with anxiety, as well as on the afflicted generations of his own family. His portrait of anxiety reveals not only the emotion’s myriad manifestations and the anguish anxiety produces but also the countless psychotherapies, medications, and other (often outlandish) treatments that have been developed to counteract it. Stossel vividly depicts anxiety’s human toll — its crippling impact, its devastating power to paralyze — while at the same time exploring how those who suffer from it find ways to manage and control it.
My Age of Anxiety is learned and empathetic, humorous and inspirational, offering the reader great insight into the biological, cultural, and environmental factors that contribute to the affliction.
“In this captivating and intimate book, the editor of the Atlantic spares no detail about his lifelong struggle with anxiety and contextualizes his personal experience within the history of anxiety’s perception and treatment….Stossel deftly explores a variety of treatments and their risks and successes, providing unique insight as both a journalist (whose priority is impartial investigation) and sufferer (whose imperative is to feel well). Throughout, the author’s beautiful prose and careful research combine to make this book informative, thoughtful and fun to read. Powerful, eye-opening and funny. Pitch perfect in his storytelling, Stossel reminds us that, in many important ways, to be anxious is to be human.” Kirkus (starred review)
“Tying together notions about anxiety culled from history, philosophy, religion, sports, and literature with current neuropsychiatric research and his extensive personal experience, Stossel’s book is more than an astounding autobiography, more than an atlas of anxiety. His deft handling of a delicate topic and frustrating illness highlights the existential dread, embarrassment, and desperation associated with severe anxiety yet allows room for resiliency, hope, transcendence. Absolutely fearless writing.” Booklist (starred review)
“Excessive anxiety, it turns out, is like most things that beset humans: partly nature and partly nurture. And it may even have its virtues. Worriers tend to be conscientious, sensitive to others and detail-oriented. These can be useful traits in many aspects of life: in marriage, say, and in the workplace. They appear to be useful in an author as well, judging by Mr. Stossel's achievement in My Age of Anxiety....In dissecting his own acute case, along with the disorder that afflicts him, he offers a degree of understanding to the rest of us — along with a modicum of comfort and even hope to those who must trudge through life chronically anxious despite their seeming good fortune.” The Wall Street Journal
“Ambitious and bravely intimate….A thrilling intellectual chase.” The New York Times
ldquo;On the one hand, the book is astonishingly thorough and lucidly written. It’s a fascinating look at that linchpin of the human condition — the primitive fight-or-flight response — and how it resides in our psyches in a time of IEDs and SSRIs. Rare will be the reader who doesn’t spot him or herself somewhere in Stossel’s sweeping analysis, as he digs into parenting styles, performance stress, talk therapy, medication, depression, fear of flying, blushing, you name it. On the other hand, you have to wonder if My Age of Anxiety is so good, so copiously reported and completist, in large part thanks to Stossel’s harsh expectations of himself....His perpetual agony has become our reading pleasure.” The Boston Globe
“A carefully reported, wryly funny, and admirably honest historical and personal investigation.” Elle Magazine
“Scott Stossel’s erudite, heartfelt, and occasionally darkly funny meld of memoir, cultural history, and science, feels excruciatingly relevant….Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic, is a wry, if distressed, chronicler of his own history and that of psychopharmacology. It’s been a long and in many ways frightening journey for him. Still, near the end of the book, in a chapter titled ‘Redemption,’ Stossel attempts to see the upside of anxiety — the links between it and creativity, productivity, morality. His therapist advises him to give himself more credit for being resilient, and it seems he does. He concludes with hope that ‘admitting my shame and fear to the world’ will ultimately be ‘empowering and anxiety reducing.’ We hope so, too.” O Magazine
About the Author
Scott Stossel is the editor of The Atlantic and the author of Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. His articles and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C.