Dr. David A. Kessler, the dynamic and controversial former FDA commissioner known for battling the tobacco industry, has spent the past two decades studying how certain addictive substances influence our behaviour. In his first two books, Dr. Kessler explored the ways in which tobacco and food can exert control over our thoughts and actions; in Capture, he broadens this conversation exponentially, exploring the very underpinnings of why we suffer from any mental affliction—such as addiction, depression, anxiety, neurosis and panic—under which our logical minds and better intentions feel as though they have been hijacked by something we cannot control.
Capture draws upon the latest thinking in psychology, medicine and neuroscience to examine the common mechanism by which this range of mental disorders takes hold in the mind; it also offers a sweeping narrative history of the role of “capture”—the term Dr. Kessler coins for the phenomenon by which the mind is taken hostage—throughout literature, philosophy, religion and art. From Aristotle’s belief in the triumph of human virtue to William James’ concept of selective attention to Freud’s model of repressed desire, Kessler traces the history of Western thought on capture. In doing so, he illuminates history’s most valuable contributions as well as its shortcomings in understanding and treating mental distress.
Kessler argues that to truly understand the nature of capture, we must view it not only through the lens of intellect, but also our own human experiences—and so the book begins with stories, and continues to offer narratives of people who are, or were at some point, in capture’s throes; stories that offer an incredibly evocative, almost palpable viewpoint of anguish. This includes candid conversations and raw accounts of substance abuse, anorexia, obsessive love, gambling and sexual compulsions in everyday people; the words of writers such as David Foster Wallace, Franz Kafka and Anne Sexton, who elucidated their own despair with urgency and eloquence; and portraits of those cases of capture that have become infamous for their violent outcomes—including Sirhan Sirhan and Ted Kaczynski. Through this storytelling Kessler offers an extraordinary portal into the realm of capture, a chance to better understand its manifestations, and a way of considering how it can seize our attention and overtake our behavior in ways that can be benign, tragic or—for some—transcendent.
The closer we can come to fully comprehending this mechanism, Dr. Kessler argues, the better chance we stand at being able to both alleviate its deleterious effects and, ultimately, overcome its grip by changing our thoughts and behaviour. More than twenty years in the making, this impeccably researched book is nothing less than a successful effort to inform everything from the smallest action to the largest life aim, a unified field theory of human activity that draws in how we form thoughts, manage trauma and even try to reconcile will and cause.
“A fascinating account of the science of human appetite, as well as its exploitation by the food industry.” —MICHAEL POLLAN, AUTHOR OF IN DEFENCE OF FOOD, ON THE END OF OVEREATING
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Why do we think, feel, and act in ways we wish we did not?
For decades, Dr. David A. Kessler has studied this question with regard to tobacco, food, and drugs. Over the course of these investigations, he identified one underlying mechanism common to a broad range of human suffering. This phenomenon—capture—is the process by which our attention is hijacked and our brains commandeered by forces outside our control.
In Capture, Dr. Kessler considers some of the most profound questions we face as human beings: What are the origins of mental afflictions, from everyday unhappiness to addiction and depression—and how are they connected? Where does healing and transcendence fit into this realm of emotional experience?
Analyzing an array of insights from psychology, medicine, neuroscience, literature, philosophy, and theology, Dr. Kessler deconstructs centuries of thinking, examining the central role of capture in mental illness and questioning traditional labels that have obscured our understanding of it. With a new basis for understanding the phenomenon of capture, he explores the concept through the emotionally resonant stories of both well-known and unknown people caught in its throes.
The closer we can come to fully comprehending the nature of capture, Dr. Kessler argues, the better equipped we are to eventually alleviate its deleterious effects and successfully change our thinking and behaviors. Ultimately, Capture offers insight into how we form thoughts and emotions, manage trauma, and heal. For the first time, we can begin to understand the underpinnings not only of mental illness but also of our everyday worries and anxieties. Capture is an intimate and critical exploration of the most enduring human mystery of all: the mind.
Advance Praise for Capture
“Kessler proposes an original theory of the mind. His cogent argument is that a great deal of the apparently inexplicable behavior of human beings is the result of impulses, drives, and obsessions that may share fundamental neural and psychodynamic mechanisms. This carefully researched book is both startling and engaging, and is written with brio.”—Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon
“In this richly documented, beautifully written, and original work, David Kessler has given us an idea that explains one of the most strange and most powerful processes in the human brain.”—E. O. Wilson, University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
“Capture is a breakthrough book. In a world of increasingly specialized knowledge, it takes a particular gift and some stubbornness to cut across the fields of neuroscience, psychiatry, philosophy, and psychology, and to ask the fundamental question: Why is it that we allow our best selves to be captured and torpedoed by thoughts and actions that sink us? Kessler’s exploration of the question makes for a compelling read. His ultimate answer is profound and one that could be life changing and life saving. I know I will be handing this book out for just that reason.”—Abraham Verghese, MD, author of Cutting for Stone
“This book offers a bold, overarching explanation for many of the great problems of the mind, problems that are often merely named. Dr. Kessler writes persuasively and with unusual clarity. Capture is an engrossing book, impressive in its cultural as well as its scientific reach.”—Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine and Mountains Beyond Mountains“Capture defines a shape of human experience about which I’m pretty sure no one has ever written before, a shape that seems to inform everything from the smallest action to the largest life aim, a unified-field theory of human activity that draws in how we form thoughts, manage trauma, and even try to reconcile will and cause.”—Chris Ware, author of Building Stories About the Author:
DAVID A. KESSLER, MD, served as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He is a pediatrician and has been the dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco. A graduate of Amherst College, the University of Chicago Law School and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kessler is the author of A Question of Intent and the New York Times bestseller The End of Overeating. Dr. Kessler is a father of two and lives with his wife in California.
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