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How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness

Christopher Lane

Selected as a 2008 AAUP University Press Book for Public and Secondary School Libraries.

Narrated by Derek Perkins

Available from Audible

Book published by Yale University Press

In the 1970s, a small group of leading psychiatrists met behind closed doors and literally rewrote the book on their profession. Revising and greatly expanding the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short), they turned what had been a thin, spiral-bound handbook into a hefty tome. Almost overnight the number of diagnoses exploded. The result was a windfall for the pharmaceutical industry and a massive conflict of interest for psychiatry at large. This spellbinding book is the first behind-the-scenes account of what really happened and why.

With unprecedented access to the American Psychiatric Association archives and previously classified memos from drug company executives, Christopher Lane unearths the disturbing truth: with little scientific justification and sometimes hilariously improbable rationales, hundreds of conditions—among them shyness—are now defined as psychiatric disorders and considered treatable with drugs. Lane shows how long-standing disagreements within the profession set the stage for these changes, and he assesses who has gained and what’s been lost in the process of medicalizing emotions. With dry wit, he demolishes the façade of objective research behind which the revolution in psychiatry has hidden. He finds a profession riddled with backbiting and jockeying, and even more troubling, a profession increasingly beholden to its corporate sponsors.

Christopher Lane is the Pearce Miller Research Professor, Northwestern University, and the recent recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship to study psychopharmacology and ethics.


“This well-written book is a thoughtful examination of shyness and its relation to psychopathology.... I very much enjoyed reading Lane's thought-provoking book, and I would highly recommend it... ”

—Brian J. Cox, New England Journal of Medicine

“In his brilliant Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness, Christopher Lane painstakingly shows how the category of 'mental disorder' has been expanded in recent decades, so that what were once considered normal emotions or everyday foibles—shyness, rebelliousness, aloofness, and so on—have been relabelled as phobias, disorders and syndromes.”

—Brendan O'Neill, New Statesman and Society

“Highly recommended for general readers, healthcare professionals and practitioners. ”


“A provocative look at an important chapter in the history of modern psychiatry.”

—Judith Graham, Chicago Tribune

“Lane argues in this well-researched ... controversial book that shyness [has been] pathologized, to the detriment, especially, of children and teenagers.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Lane’s thorough trawling of the archives of the American Psychiatric Association, his discovery of unpublished internal memos from drug companies, and most especially his accounts of the deliberately obstructive activities of the companies’ marketing teams, make for compelling reading. ”

Journal of Mental Health

“Lane's book is worth reading because...he does such an admirable job of exposing how the psychiatric profession and the pharmaceutical industry together manage to develop and popularize new 'mental diseases' and the accompanying treatments apparently designed to increase profits...It is a solid book and one that is likely to remain current for several years, if not decades, to come. ”

Journal of Scientific Exploration

“[A] fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the making of the bible of modern psychiatry [that] explains how a once-ordinary affliction became a profitable disease. ”

Mother Jones

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks