[Ordinarily Well] brilliantly dissects decades-worth of antidepressant drug trials, while touting the value of clinical observation and practice ... He argues forcefully that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, as well as other antidepressants, are invaluable tools in the psychiatric arsenal ... It helps that he is a clear, patient and often elegant writer, with a predilection for circling back to his principal points. But his sophisticated argument demands a willingness to grapple with nuances of the construction, interpretation and limitations of drug trials – fascinating, as he predicts, but hardly beach reading.
Kramer is not out to enthrall but rather to re-engage with an important debate that’s been brewing since the dawn of biological psychiatry: Do antidepressants work? Kramer argues forcefully that they do ... This book would be yet another contribution to the literature of pro- and antidrug jeremiads except that it is so careful and measured and fair, and at times even candidly self-doubting, in its presentation, that it can’t be classified as such ... If you can wade through the statistical and methodological thickets that Kramer, as your Virgil, leads you through in this book, you will most likely come away convinced by his argument for the efficacy of antidepressants — and moved by his humane concern for his patients, and for the needless suffering of unmedicated patients around the world.
A bit of advice before reading Peter D. Kramer’s timely book, Ordinarily Well: The Case for Antidepressants: Skip the preface. There’s too much Peter Kramer in it, and it’s off-putting ... I carp because I care. In Ordinarily Well, Dr. Kramer, who has written so well about the curse of melancholia — that thief who steals your blood and slyly replaces it with lead — has done something very valuable: He has waded into the contentious debate about the efficacy of antidepressants. It’s an important and confusing subject. One in eight Americans rely on these medications, hardly a trivial number. Dr. Kramer shouldn’t risk losing readers so early in the climb with rickety little cairns of humblebrag ... Ordinarily Well can be slow going. While I delight as much as Dr. Kramer does in scrutinizing studies for flaws in design and execution — he talks effect sizes, dropout biases, additivity — his writing is maddeningly turgid in places. But stick with him. He has done some much-needed synthesizing and debunking ... my favorite chapters, by a long chalk, are his 'interludes' describing his own experience treating patients. They are beautiful, philosophical, ambivalent — brimming with all the humility that his opening pages lack.