Like any good story about a scientific discovery, Walter A. Brown's account of the history of lithium features plenty of improvisation, conjecture and straight-up kismet. Unlike many such stories, though, it also features a fair share of personal bias, senseless puttering and random speculation—on part of these scientific researchers ... Lithium is a homage, not just to a drug, but to the renegade side of science ... Danish researcher Mogens Schou...endured much criticism because he had a personal interest in his investigations: He used lithium to help his younger brother...[and] 'was accused by some of being biased' ... Brown is as determined to puncture such attitudes as he is intrigued by lithium itself. It's this emphasis, itself rather quixotic, that makes Lithium memorable.
This important history of psychiatry shows the complexity of empirical research and quantification, as well as the ways that subjective research reports are received ... Those interested in the history of medicine, psychiatry, and medical research will find this an important and engagingly written book.
In 1949 an Australian psychiatrist named John Cade made the curious discovery that lithium was extremely effective in treating mania. As the psychiatrist Walter Brown writes in his thorough and highly readable Lithium: A Doctor, a Drug, and a Breakthrough, this was 'the first demonstration that a drug can alleviate the fundamental symptoms of a mental illness' ... In Dr. Brown’s assessment, it is 'uniquely specific' in its action, 'effective only in manic-depressive illness' (now commonly known as bipolar disorder). But despite its chemical simplicity, we still have no idea how it works.
In this comprehensive history, Brown...meticulously traces the research, theories, and people behind the discovery of lithium as a successful bipolar disorder treatment ... While occasionally excessive in the attention paid to technical detail, Brown’s account nonetheless makes for a worthy chronicle of a significant topic.