In this tightly organized study of the relationship between creativity and manic-depressive disease and its variants, the author asks and attempts to address some interesting questions. Is there sufficient evidence in the histories of well-known artists and their families to demonstrate a genetic linking of creativity and depressive disorders? Are there phases in classic bipolar cycles that are particularly conducive to bursts of, or sustained, creative productivity? Does treatment (be it chemical or psychotherapeutic) of his or her psychiatric symptoms blunt the ability of the artist to work successfully?

In an attempt to answer these and other intriguing questions, Jamison explores in some detail the personal, family and creative histories of writers long suspected of being depressed with or without alcohol or having periods of mania. She opens by defining for the novice the parameters of the disorders in question, examines some of her subjects' family history of "madness," and discusses evidence for relationships among the waxing and waning of depressive disorders and creative productivity.


This intriguing study is well organized and extensively documented. Although it is a somewhat complex read for one not completely familiar with the language of psychiatric disorders, the author seems highly sensitive to this potential problem and does a fine job of making the work readable by an audience of persons primarily interested in the history and maintenance of creativity as well as those who seek further insights into mental disorders.

The detail of this work focuses on a small group of writers, especially those falling into the British and American Romantic poets of the 19th Century. However, the framework created can be cast to suggest both earlier and later writers and expanded beyond literature into the other creative fields that Jamison suggests but does not explore in detail.


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New York



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