'A new approach to mental disorder. Randolph Nesse's insightful book suggests that conditions such as anxiety and depression have a clear evolutionary purpose ... This intriguing book turns some age-old questions about the human condition upside down' Tim Adams, Observer
One of the world's most respected psychiatrists provides a much-needed new evolutionary framework for making sense of mental illness
With his classic book Why We Get Sick, Randolph Nesse established the field of evolutionary medicine. Now he returns with a book that transforms our understanding of mental disorders by exploring a fundamentally new question. Instead of asking why certain people suffer from mental illness, Nesse asks why natural selection has left us with fragile minds at all.
Drawing on revealing stories from his own clinical practice and insights from evolutionary biology, Nesse shows how negative emotions are useful in certain situations, yet can become excessive. Anxiety protects us from harm in the face of danger, but false alarms are inevitable. Low mood prevents us from wasting effort in pursuit of unreachable goals, but it often escalates into pathological depression. Other mental disorders, such as addiction and anorexia, result from the mismatch between modern environments and our ancient human past. Taken together, these insights and many more help to explain the pervasiveness of human suffering, and show us new paths for relieving it.