A post at Shrink Rap invites suggestions for recommended reading on psychiatric topics, prompting me to chime in with my top ten. These are not "recommended" per se; these are the books, some read before I became a psychiatrist and some read after, that struck or influenced me most deeply. This sort of list can only relate to the sort of person I was to begin with; other people might read these ten and be disappointedly unfazed, but I can't help believing they are noteworthy in their own ways. In no particular order:
1. "Civilization and its Discontents," encountered in undergrad, was my first experience of Freud, and still the most memorable. He unforgettably explained how the basic human dilemma is not so much intrapsychic as social and interpersonal. As Sartre infamously put it, "Hell is other people," although fortunately it's not so simple.
2. The Birth of Neurosis, by George Frederick Drinka, impressed me with the cultural contingency of hysteria and psychological symptoms in general.
3. The Savage God: A Study of Suicide, by A. Alvarez, used the case study of Sylvia Plath as a springboard to an existential and phenomenological consideration of the suicidal mindset.
4. Listening to Prozac, by Peter Kramer, raised fascinating and vexing questions about the relation of diagnosis to medication.
5. The Myth of Mental Illness, by Thomas Szasz: any serious psychiatrist must know, and come to grips with, the argument that the whole enterprise is fundamentally misguided.
6. Darkness Visible, by William Styron, may be forever the best account of the experience of depression. No sentimentality or silver linings here (although he did recover).
7. "Ward Six," by Anton Chekhov: There but for the grace of God...
8. "Miss Lonelyhearts," by Nathanael West, is a deeply quirky examination of the emotional hazards of the therapy project, broadly considered (in this case, pertaining to an advice columnist).
9. The Perspectives of Psychiatry, by Paul McHugh and Philip Slavney, convincingly argues for the irreducible complexity of psychiatric understanding.
10. With all due respect to Irvin Yalom, I would pick Kafka's brief, gnomic parable "Before the Law" as the ultimate existentialist text: in the end, it's unavoidably up to you.
11. (Honorable Mention): Hamlet, by William Shakespeare: the unfathomably neurotic young psychiatrist as doomed Danish tragic hero.