This text explains how our genetic background can affect our emotional and psychological behaviour, especially in mood disorders such as manic depression. Focusing on two families, both with a history of manic depression, the author leads the reader through the process of discovering clues in family histories, and attempts to uncover common DNA patterns in family members now living with the disease.
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About one in 100 people suffer from full-blown manic depressive illness. Many more of us experience milder versions of this condition. One of these mild forms, called hypomania, may even confer adaptive advantages on the lucky sufferer, bestowing optimism, charisma and creative thinking, tempered by bouts of mild depression which keep manias in check and serve as signals to others to offer compassion and help.
The search for the genetic basis of mania and depression is at once a major medical priority (one in five people with manic depression commit suicide), and merely the latest step in an age-old quest to understand what purpose emotions serve.
Each major paradigm of mind has its own anatomy of melancholy. Samuel Barondes traces these rival models of despond, from the earliest writings of psychotherapy, through modern psychiatry's progressive integration into hospital medicine, to the gathering of evidence to suggest that there is a genetic component to the disease. This possibility in particular is complicating--if not revolutionising--our ideas of human nature, nurture and identity.
Barondes' own story of how he came to be involved in the hunt for "mood genes" is a pacy, no-punches-pulled memoir offering insights into genetics both as an exercise in pure science and as a job of work with all its attendant political, professional and ethical dilemmas. Long after the findings discussed here have been superseded, Mood Genes deserves to be treasured as a fascinating account of a life in science. --Simon Ings
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