Why do I feel bad? There is real power in understanding our bad feelings. Nesse's book transforms our understanding of mental disorders by exploring a fundamentally new question. Instead of asking why certain people suffer from mental illness, Nesse asks why natural selection has left us all with fragile minds.
This intriguing book turns some age-old questions about the human condition upside down ... Nesse, formerly both a professor of psychology and psychiatry and now the director of the Center for Evolution and Medicine at Arizona State University was never, of course, going to offer definitive answers to these questions. Rather, in an engaging, storytelling voice that rests on 30 years of clinical practice, he offers a series of insights, both scientific and anecdotal, that begins to show why the vulnerabilities in our psyche are fundamental to the survival of our genes ... His book, a mixture of such research and well-caveated speculation, addresses the thornier questions of psychiatry with a pragmatic curiosity.
To claim to have pioneered a new approach to understanding mental illness...as Nesse has done, is quite something ... Nesse is open about when he is speculating, and when he has supporting evidence. But the problem with his approach is that the evolutionary explanation always seems to trump any other kind — and his speculations can feel like simplifications ... Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is perhaps oversold. It does not feel like “a fundamentally new perspective”, but it does feel like a useful contribution ... For all its origins in evolutionary theory, and all its claims of novelty, Nesse’s approach ends up sounding benign and rather practical...Even if you don’t buy all of his adaptational just-so stories, that basic conception of the mind feels like good, common sense.
If you’re curious about why humans seem stuck with emotional suffering, Good Reasons for Bad Feelings provides thoughtful evolutionary commentary. Nesse looks at emotions, addictions, and mental afflictions every which way and, to his credit, does not pretend to have all the answers. The ones he offers and the questions he raises about their likelihood make for highly interesting and enlightening reading.