Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Dylan Evans
David Pilgrim

David Nettle

Strong Imagination

The nature of mental illness has been the subject of a great deal of debate. Is it a case of being different rather than ill? How much is it 'in the genes' and how much is caused by the environment? And are the most creative individuals also those who are bordering on madness? In Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity, and Human Nature David Nettle looks at many such questions.

As well as investigating the difference/disease and nature/nurture issues, the book examines the different types of mental illness. Schizophrenia and depression are both mental illnesses, but are very different in their effects. Nettle considers whether we should think of a line with normality at one end and mental illness at the other - possibly splitting into two - or whether it's a case of depression and schizophrenia being two extremes with normality in the middle. The book goes on to look at the brain chemistry which is involved in these illnesses, and the varying successes of drug treatments

Later in the book Nettle goes into more details of the link between creativity and mental problems. He argues that evolution has selected for the benefits of creativity, and in particular sexual selection has led to the most imaginative individuals being the ones to reproduce, but in excess this trait may result in mental illness. However, I felt that there there wasn't as much about the links between 'the lunatic, the lover and the poet' as the cover would suggest. The book is aimed much more at those readers wanting to find out about mental illness rather than those wanting to find out about creativity.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 252 pages  
ISBN: 0198605005
Salesrank: 3689440
Weight:0.62 lbs
Published: 2002 Oxford
Amazon price $27.95
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 252 pages  
ISBN: 0198605005
Salesrank: 869261
Weight:0.62 lbs
Published: 2002 Oxford
Amazon price £18.99
Marketplace:New from £15.75:Used from £3.07
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 245 pages  
ISBN: 0198605005
Salesrank: 806088
Weight:0.62 lbs
Published: 2002 Oxford University Press
Amazon price CDN$ 38.48
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Product Description
Madness is the central mystery of the human psyche. Our minds evolved to give us a faithful understanding of reality, to allow us to integrate into our communities, and to help us to adapt our behaviour to our environment. Yet in serious mental illness, the mind does exactly the opposite of these things. The sufferer builds castles of imaginative delusion, fails to adapt, and becomes a stranger among their own people. Mental illness is no marginal phenomenon: it is found in all societies and all historical epochs, and the genes that underlie it are quite common. Furthermore, the traits that identify the madman are found in attenuated form in normal thinking and feeling. The persistence of madness, then, is a terrible puzzle from both an evolutionary and a human point of view. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare suggested a link between madness and artistic creativity: 'The lunatic, the lover, and the poet', he wrote, 'Are of imagination all compact'. Recent studies have shown that there is indeed a connection. Rates of mental illness are hugely elevated in the families of poets, writers, and artists, suggesting that the same genes, the same temperaments, and the same imaginative capacities are at work in insanity and in creative ability. Thus the reason madness continues to exist is that the traits behind it have psychological benefits as well as psychological costs. In Strong Imagination, Daniel Nettle explores the nature of mental illness, the biological mechanisms that underlie it, and its link to creative genius. He goes on to consider the place of both madness and creative imagination in the evolution of our species.