Touched With Fire
Touched With Fire

 
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The march of science in explaining human nature continues. In Touched With Fire, Jamison marshals a tremendous amount of evidence for the proposition that most artistic geniuses were (and are) manic depressives. This is a book of interest to scientists, psychologists, and artists struggling with the age-old question of whether psychological suffering is an essential component of artistic creativity. Anyone reading this book closely will be forced to conclude that it is. Very Highly Recommended.

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Customer Reviews:

  • This book changed my life and made me realize I'M NOT CRAZY!
    Touched With Fire is by far the most life changing book I have ever read. Having suffered with Cyclothymia as long as I can remember, and also being an extremely creative person, I thought I was losing my mind...then I read this book. Kay Jamison explores the relationship between creativity and manic depressive illness in an amazing way. The excerpts of letters, etc., of great artists, writers and composers of the past are enlightening, inspiring, and devastating to read. They open up a new understanding of these individuals and what they lived with. This is a must read not only for those suffering from forms of manic depressive illness, but also those who are associated with them. Wonderful reading. INFORMATIVE, ENLIGHTENING, AND AMAZING....more info
  • An Analysis of the Artistic Temperament
    Who is this, who is this in the night of the heart?
    It is the thing that is not reached,
    the ghost seen by the soul...
    ~Sorley MacLean

    Touched with Fire reveals its secrets in startling revelations and comforting commentary. Throughout this brilliant work, Kay Redfield Jamison exhibits an insightful and calmly observant approach in the midst of manic-depressive complexity.

    She explores the reasons artists, writers, and composers are often fearful of the dampening of creativity through the use of chemicals like lithium. Although she often notes the tendency towards various addictions artists use to escape the erratic nature of mood disorders.

    The creative temperament seems to feed off emotional turmoil and often in the works of great poets we can feel the soul's turbulence. The reality of heightened imaginative powers, depression, insomnia, fatigue, rapid thoughts, inflated self-esteem, panic attacks, rage and emotional intensity of various varieties can all swim about in an ocean of ever changing periods of heightened creativity and suicidal tendencies. Within this ocean, brilliance is often born and fed by the storms raging in artist's minds.

    For the most part the author explains how many can life a normal life, yet as we read the descriptions and excerpts, we soon realize many danced too close to the cliff of despair and became a danger to themselves. Kay Redfield Jamison presents sweeping overviews of many authors and then delves into individual experience. She uncovers the lives of Robert Schumann, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

    According to the author and extensive analysis of current research, moody musicians, volatile poets and troubled artists may in fact be bipolar. This theory is explored in depth with over one-third of the book dedicated to cataloging the researcher's sources.

    There is much to learn here, like the difference between cyclothymia and manic-depressive illness. Some of the artists heal themselves through artistic expression, especially in May if they don't commit suicide in the same month. Others produce more writing in autumn.

    Poetry led me by the hand out of madness. ~Anne Sexton

    As the lives of numerous mercurial writers are explored, a common thread of creativity weaves itself into a blanket of madness which seems to seek to suffocate its victims with torturous emotions and dark nights of the soul.

    This then becomes a fascinating and intellectual read for anyone who has an interest in writing, poetry, psychiatry or the artistic temperament. If you write poetry or enjoy writing in general, this book could be most revealing and will explain why at times you might stay awake for 24 hours writing like mad and then have absolutely no desire to write for weeks at a time. While the author focuses on more extreme cases of bipolar disorder, she does give hope to the world by explaining that many who have bipolar disorder do mostly live normal lives. If you can call being on an eternal rollercoaster of intense emotions normal or even bearable throughout an entire life.

    While people who are bipolar may have periods when they feel absolutely fine, there is always the fear of the unknown, the dark night that is again fast approaching. After reading this book you will understand authors like Dorothy Parker and Virginia Woolf in a new light even though the author doesn't mention Parker.

    ~The Rebecca Review...more info
  • Not a book for people who like to think critically
    I chose to read this book because I have had personal experience with manic-depressive illness in a close friend of mine and have always wondered if her abilities would be less were it not for her illness. Today though, I wish I had made a different choice.

    As Jamison herself writes, the main purpose of the book is to show that there is a significant correlation between artistic temperament and manic-depressive illness. At least to me, this simple thesis has always seemed relatively uncontroversial and could have been addressed in a few dozen pages before moving on to more interesting issues such as, for example, what this teaches us about the nature of art and the nature of manic-depression. Instead, we get about two hundred endless pages consisting of a deluge of quotations, literal or paraphrased, from artists, researchers and philosophers rained down ad nauseam on the hapless reader with precious little critical thinking in between. Although some might argue that more data is always better than less, it seems doubtful that anyone not convinced of the artistic/manic-depression association by a few well chosen arguments will see the light because they have been force-fed extra verses from yet another romantic poet. To compound the problem, the book is completely lacking in the systematic analytical thinking that one would expect from a scientist; to give a single example, what is meant by artistic temperament is never elucidated. Considering that entire tomes are devoted to the meaning of art, a definition by context is a cavalier treatment indeed.

    After a brief introduction, the book begins with a catalogue of mostly descriptive quotations by various famous artists and their close ones describing mood and behavior patterns which can be recognized as fairly typical of manic-depressive illness. The reader is spared nothing; instances of depression, mania, sleep disturbances, anxiety, psychosis, drug abuse, suicidal ideation and so on are all carefully documented in a numbing drone.

    The book then moves on to the epidemiology which I find convincing, especially for the 40% prevalence of bipolar disorder among a sample of writers. One always wonders about various systematic effects but this is probably as good as the data are going to get.

    At last, the book makes an attempt to study the influence of manic-depression in artistic production and this is where it fails miserably. If we assume an association between artistic creativity and manic depression this means that either: manic-depressive illness makes some people artistically creative, or artistic creativity makes some people manic-depressive, or there is an unknown trait that can make people both artistically creative and manic-depressive. But even such an elementary discussion is not readily apparent and instead we are drawn in a long winded reargumentation of the association between manic-depression and artistic production. Here I cannot resist quoting a few beginnings of paragraphs related to temporal periodicity: "Life is partitioned by time - years, months, days, minutes - into events that tend to recur..." "Rhythmic patterns and disturbances in manic-depressive illness are apparent in many ways..." "The very cyclicity (sic) of manic depressive illness constitutes a type of rhythm..." ... "Clearly everyone experiences seasons and patterns of light..." ... "Every artist and writer has his or her own pattern of moods and creative energies... "

    The editor should probably get a public spanking for letting such unbearable platitudes through.

    The book partially redeems itself with a well researched and well thought out life of Byron. Unfortunately, the level is not kept up and progressively deteriorates through subsequent short biographies and genealogies of Tennyson, Schumann, the James family, Melville, Coleridge, Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Mary Shelley, Boswell, and Van Gogh. Again, the main point seems to be to support the connection between artistic creativity and manic-depression by tracing the heredity of the disease; isn't the author getting tired of rehashing this? I know I was.

    The last chapter is short, perhaps mercifully, but it should have been one of the longest, dealing with implications of therapies for manic-depression on artistic creativity. A dash of lithium here, a sprinkle of human genome project there, and another telephone book of artists in between and we are done, phew!

    This book gives the feeling of a quick job; the meandering stream-of-consciousness organization within individual sections, the near-absence of pages without either direct or paraphrased quotation, the stylistic clichs and repetitions, and the lack of analytical thinking with an author who is obviously capable of much better all point in that direction. I cannot help myself but wonder if this opus was not meant to ride on the coat-tails of the successful and probably very good Unquiet Mind with a view to sell copies to the manic-depressive patient/family/friend customer who must find comforting the notion of a connection between the disease and Greatness. It is a shame, the world is already so full of bad books that it would behoove those who can actually write good ones to take the time and effort to do so....more info

  • Don't read this if you are dealing with a Bipolar diagnosis!
    As a visual artist having recently been diagnosed bipolar, it seemed only logical to read this book. I had hoped it would encourage me to stick with treatment. I was scared that medication would dull and disable me. I looked to this book for encouragement and hope. Unfortunately, it seemed to reinforce the notion that Lithium and other treatments snatch creativity from the artist suffering with manic depression. She romanticizes the pain of depression and highs of mania experienced by writers and artists of yore by pointing to the wonderful work they produced (while ill). Then she waxes poetic about the degeneration of the artists who committed suicide or died in institutions. I actually felt my heels dig in about seeking and follwing through with treatment for fear that my "fire" would be put out. I really wish she would have dwelled more on current artists and their experiences with current treatments, including their positive or negative feelings about medication and its effects on their creative process....more info
  • Excellent and Fascinating
    I read this book a year ago, after passing through a major depressive episode. The reasons for reading the book, at the time, was to read about the artistic personality (I am in the arts) as well as find out more about my condition, which I know already was not bi-polar.
    And, by george, there it was, a not-so-well known mood disorder called cyclothymia. Imminently treatable, and well described.
    This is a gem of a book. More than a gem, it's both fascinating reading as well as extraordinarily informative. The author was far less able to write with such eloquence on her own depressive episodes, but this book is a gold mine of enormously readable information....more info
  • Great Insight, too much detail
    As one not far removed from the struggles faced by those with bipolar and depressive illnesses, I found, as I did with reading THE UNQUIET MIND, that Kate Jamison's insight into the issue of creative talent and mental illness is sensitive, far reaching, and compassionate. But unlike that first book, TOUCHED WITH FIRE tends more toward the academic, complete with voluminous footnotes. It was a good read, though I suspect that many will find her theorems are so laboriously supported (and documented) as to be meant for the academic world, not the lay person. It could be laborious, read cover to cover. Read this book to learn the nature and texture of mental illness, but treasure it much more than that for it's many references to our famous poets, authors and artists, complete with historical letters and quotes. Be patient, and be willing to simply skip part of a chapter to save valuable time and find yet another gem of some first hand account about an author or poet you always thought must have suffered to have the insight they do!...more info
  • Mens sana in corpore sano.
    Over the years.....for as long as I can remember - I sit alone and let my mind soar to the most incredible heights. My mind hears, sees and feels ....original music that tragically will never be heard. Motion Pictures that will never be seen. Eroticism that would make even the most sexually creative blush - never be felt.

    My mind went too high...too often that made life too difficult to bear when the stars tuned to clouds.

    Before the medication, early on a Sunday morning - I would play my piano into the early evening......with only vague recollections of my wife's voice mentioning something about lunch. Never being satisfied with what I had played over the last 12 hours. Vainly trying to fight off the anxiety and depression. The waves of original music I had just played while my body covered in goose bumps and those encompassing waves not dissimilar to a sexual orgasm..only giving way to the frustration and damning myself for the melodies that did not come. Regardless of the niceties bestowed upon me by neighbors at cocktail parties who overheard while watering the lawn or walking the dog.

    Mens sana in corpore sano - A healthy mind in a healthy body is something madness will not allow.

    My children and I thank you Dr. Greenfield and we thank you Pamela for continuing to lead me past the open windows. I love you both from the bottom of my heart.

    ....and thank you Kay for the validation....more info
  • least of her books
    This is one of my favorite authors on the subject of mood disorders, but the book was a disappointment. Most of the information about creative people that she used is well known and documented in other sources. Ms. Jamison did a nice job of explaining the family history of some of our favorite creative people of old, defining the link between mood disorders of family members. As an artist my interest was in those who had been successfully treated for their disorder and lived to be creative again. This book was an analysis of THE PAST, statistics relating to the resuming of creative careers after treatment were not in this book. I very much enjoyed her other writing but this was a detailed rehash of old information and didn't offer much beyond dry research and statistics....more info
  • Brilliant and Illuminating
    Easily Jamison's best book because she is doing what she does best, scholarship. If you have first-hand understanding of Manic Depression you will find the authoritative ring of truth throughout this work, if you don't, you will gain powerful insight into the illness. Her methodology, especially when used with Lord Byron and the James family, is exacting and careful.

    Jamison is that most rare of creatures, a scientist with an appreciation for and understanding of the artistic temperament. She seems to understand what most do not, that is, art is not created by healthy, well-adjusted people. Being mad is certainly no guarantee of creative excellence, however, madness is often the terrible price paid by those who soar high above our heads and inspire us.

    Probably the most compelling aspect of this book is her use of quotes by the people she's discussing, if you don't believe her words, you must certainly believe theirs. A must for any serious student of the subject. ...more info
  • Who Are You To Claim You're Normal?
    It's long been considered a fact of life that seems to go with the territory that creative people are not only "abnormal" or "outside the mainstream"--but that many of them are just plain loopy. Doubtless, some of that kind of thinking owes a big debt to the narrowing--and often stereotypical--definitions of "normal" in American society. However, the gradual merging of biology and psychology over the last two decades shows a scientifically verifiable correlation between the "artistic temperament" and "manic-depressive illness."

    Want to know more about what psychological researchers have been discovering about this long-acknowledged link since the Prozac Revolution? Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins, presents as "evidence" a series of recent statistical studies of creative men and women that reveal a definite relationship between the long-ellusive and hard-to-diagnose illness and the personality traits researchers suspect are inherent in successful creative activity. While that's not anything particularly new or groundbreaking--the dry opening chapters are perhaps a little too technical for the information Jamison seeks to convey to a general audience--"Touched With Fire" may help to dispel some of the confusion among "normal" family members and friends who are often too quick to label the artists and writers among them as "messed up" or "weird" or "skitzy."

    Once Jamison gets down to the brass tacks and begins to present details from specific cases--Byron, Van Gogh, Melville and Woolf--the book presents a fascinating gathering of poems, notes, letters and testimonies that could shatter the idea that history's most creative people were also exceptionally well-behaved and mannerly. The fact they weren't is testimony, of course, to art's ability to sculpt an illusion around its creator, but the revelation does more than that. After all, still-murky distinctions between the artistic temperament and insanity bring up ethical questions regarding the ultimate meaning and direction of normality in America--who is to be included in the "Pantheon of the Normal" and who is to be barred at the door--but Jamison merely glosses over this area. Since social morays often change the meaning of "normality" over time--and since what we consider "normal" today was by no means "normal" 200 years ago--studies of this relationship that limit themselves to diagnostic criteria and subjective symptoms are bound to be far too limited to provide even the most superficial understanding of how creativity interacts with madness and other discomfiting developments.

    One of the book's quirks is that Jamison--doubtless due to scant information--limits the subject's medicinal applications to the effects of lithium on creativity and creative individuals with bipolar illness. What she doesn't tell her readers is that the discovery of Prozac and other SSRIs has advented a new age in the treatment and understanding of all forms of depression. In fact, depression seems to have distinct components in many cases that psychologists never understood until the unintended effects of Prozac revealed them. Prozac has been found to have a positive effect on obsessive/compulsive behavior, Tourette's Syndrome and even in cases that had previously been misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. Depression has been found to cut a far wider swath through the psyche than researchers have previously acknowledged--even to themselves.

    Furthermore, Jamison completely omits--perhaps due to a dearth of research--possible linkages between the creative activities of writers and artists that may someday be found to precipitate mania and depression. Writing and art supposedly clear the mind. What happens to the artist, poet or writer who inadvertantly clears--or, to put it into the technical vernacular, "kindles"--the mind a little too much? How do the stresses of the craft mitigate the illnesses we associate with creator/victims? How does the impression of a powerful stimuli--a trauma, drug or alchol use, or the "high" of creating a powerful poem or painting--set up patterns in psychic response and in the process of how we relate to less-powerful stimuli? Needless to say, we've got a long way to go before we completely understand manic-depressive illness and its strange tendency to appear in the psyches of creative individuals. Jamison's book might be entertaining and comforting to those of us who have to live with the disease--even if parts of it parse like a research paper--but we're only scratching the surface of something that deserves much more in-depth investigation than we've undertaken....more info

  • Still Worth A Read
    While Prof. Jamison's previous writing has inspired me and also given me insight to the potential pitfalls that face someone with bipolar disorder, I found this book to be a bit more technical. Perhaps a little too technical.

    Regardless, Kay Redfield Jamison is a brilliant author. Her honesty, insight, and ability to open her world to you as a reader is amazing. Blunt. Honest. Thought-provoking.

    Look up her other works and you will NOT be disappointed, particularly "An Unquiet Mind". You won't regret it....more info
  • Impeccably, hauntingly, frightfully well-researched.
    Though merely a layman, I enjoyed this book im mensly, and continue to refer to it on occasion. My husband purchased a copy for me while was confined to our local hospital's "mental ward" for deeply suicidal depression. At the time I could scarcely comprehend a single line of it, however, as I grew more coherent I was able to absorb and relate to the torment, as I am manic-depressive myself. I tend to be more melancholy and introspective. When I am hypomanic I usually take apart the entire house, and completely re-arrange EVERYTHING. I've also gone running in the dark thinking God was my puppeteer and somehow cosmically/intrinsically connected to my Nikes. I dont believe I have ever run so fast in my life. I am not well-versed with the poets' and I am unable to share in the depth of passion of Dr. Jamison's feelings, and unfathomable descriptions,however, she is quite adept at portraying the joy, terror, and torment of these gifted beings; I am able to relate to that--the alcohol and drug abuse; the destruction of relationships; writing fervently for days, then not lifting a pen (or these days), not touching a keyboard for months or perhaps longer. Anyway, this is to be a review and I am straying. Thank you Dr. Jamison for your depth in searching, depth of caring, and also shortly afterward, sharing your personal experience. Touched With Fire is certainly aptly titled. There are few books that are worth reading on the topic of manic-depression; they are either poorly written, or else they simply chronicle an individual's family's experience in diary format....more info
  • Outstanding analysis of tie between bipolar & creativity
    Ok...let's get some things straight right off the bat. This book by Jamison is NOT a book meant for the easy reading of those who are trying to find out more about bipolar disease (whether or not they are merely curious or actually have been diagnosed with it themselves!). This book is an excellent qualitative case studies argument for professionals and peers (in education, in psychology, in neuroscience, in the art world, etc.) who would like to further delve into the long-circulated theory that those blessed with creative abilities are often cursed with manic-depressive (bipolar disorder). Those lay people who merely want confirmation of their illness (or that of a family member) are going to be in for an incredible disappointment if they 'get' this book. It was never intended to be a self-help diary, no matter what Jamison's previous books on bipolar have been like.

    Next...Jamison makes an excellent case for the link between bipolar disorder and creativity. The methodology she uses tends to be dependent upon case studies of particular artists and the information available from their own writings as well as their family backgrounds and family lineage. It is a well-known fact that many of the psychiatric disorders have both a genetic and an environmental component. Jamison obviously is learned enough and has enough background in neuroscience and psychiatry, to be able to tie the information often gleaned separately in these fields, together in a more comprehensive whole. No, Jamison does not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the concept that many writers/artists are plagued by bipolararity...but she sure makes a heck of a case for the previously surmised existence of a link! Her science information is impeccable, given what is known now at this particular time concerning manic-depression and the brain. In spite of having to use historical accounts and letters of family members, the artists themselves, and those in direct contact with these people...Jamison's analysis of their work and art, in conjunction with that historical writing, and using what is known now about this particular disorder in the brain is an phenomenal act of intelligent and scholarly writing. And it is well-written and not typical-boring textbook (or 'let's-slap-ourselves-on-the-back-in-congratulatory' professorial type) either! That's high praise on my part, since I cannot abide professors who pander their own writing (whether textbooks or journals) or write to their colleagues in as hard-to-understand professional jargon as possible, and then demand their poor students attempt to make sense of it (as well as line the professors pockets!) Cynical, aren't I?

    I had seen and heard of Jamison's work before, but this was the first opportunity I had had to pick up one of her books. Since having not only two artistic grandfathers (one of whom fit the mold of those in this book) as well as having a good per cent of my own family history done (and being linked to some very famous depressives and manic depressives on both sides like Mary Todd Lincoln)...my interest has always been piqued by this theory. My first three years in college gave me a great background in British and American literature, and I remember reading William Blake and thinking 'this guy straddles the world between being one of the major prophetic poets, and being stark-raving loonie'!
    Jamison really confirmed what I had previously thought by giving more background into the lives of these men and women. Plus she ties in the what is known about their placement into insane asylums and into their deaths at their own hands (as well as dependence upon alcohol or other drugs to relieve their depression...they rarely wanted to ease their mania which in itself is another confirmation of their own recognizance of their problems).

    Jamison watches the speculation, that I find abhorent in historical research. She makes no claims that this is the final word on these people...she cannot. She knows and admits this. But her immense work in this area provides significant input into the lives and works of these men. It makes all of us, whether in the medical world, the educational world, or the artistic world appreciate the art and writings of these men even more because of the knowledge of what they went through.

    Karen L. Sadler,
    Science Education,
    University of Pittsburgh...more info

  • Not the whole story...but a fine effort all the same
    As mentioned by others, if you are looking for the actual process of how depression is seen to predispose certain people to be creative then this book is not for you. The fineline between madman and genius is still poorly understood. Jamisons book is a treatise on what information is known along with citing studies and statistical analysis. It is aimed more towards scientists etc. studying the phenomenon as opposed to individuals looking for answers as to why they are prone to depression and the creativity that depression brings about.
    However, with the above in mind, Jamison has done a good job. I feel it to be incomplete as it doesn't really get in to the nitty gritty of what exactly is happening to cause the madman/genius scenario. Alas that isn't a failing of Jamison, more a case that currently no one knows with any certainty as to what is going on. Is it hereditary?, Genetics?, a social failing, artists taking advantage of societies perception of the madgenius-artist?, being predisposed to being more emotional and just feeling the highs and lows of the human condition to a greater degree? etc. etc. Hopefully one day soon the underlying causes may be know but not today. And in a way that is a plus for this book - Jamison for the most part appears to be impartial to the theories and merely collects them together for the reader to to review. There are some biographies of certain artists/writers/poets/musicians etc. with Lord Byron being the greatest study. They make for very interesting reading, along with the lists of well regarded artistic types and their battles with mental illness.
    If you are someone looking for answers this book isn't for you. But if you are looking for the current state of affairs in this field then you will find much here to dwell on. My background is science so I found the delivery of the book to be standard scientific fare and had no problems reading it. It may come across as dry to a reader not so well versed in this manner of writing. As I am now a writer and an artist I found the book to be very interesting - I didn't learn much beyond what common sense will tell you but it was useful to have all the current studies in one tome. A book in a similar vein worth reading is Anthony Storr's "Churchill's Black Dog"....more info
  • Remarkable insight into this pathology
    I was so moved by this book. I sent a copy to a loved one right away. The disapproving reviews I have compassion with as it the book does emphasise the positive aspects of the illness. I personally am sick of reading all the gloom of the illness. I LIVED IT FOR YEARS. This is so refreshing....more info
  • Illness to genius
    First off, even if we can eradicate certain diseases it doesn't mean we should. If manic depression does exist, and is not yet another piece of the crazy pie, then let it be.
    However, if manic depression is physical, then it should not be called a mental illness. And its absurd of the author to go back and make speculations about artists, many who have been dead a long time. If today we are going to call our creative geniuses mad, then come right out and say it. Don't try to pin them under a newly discovered "disorder" just because it is the fashion of OUR day to be so labeled. The world has always been full of different types of people, acting in a variety of ways. Today we just happen to be less intolerant of the more unusual or interesting types and feel it is our business to correct them. If a person is truly suffering, they will go for help and hopefully find it through either medication or some other type of therapy. Jamison seems to like to romanticize what appears to be a growing problem. Time will tell its source, and hopefully reveal something useful for the people enduring it. This book is not useful for those people. I am an artist myself, and I do suffer depression. And I have written many things that were not depressing to me, but sound just like some of the passages in this book. I'm sure years from now someone could say that I wrote those things during times of unbearable agony. But as a psychologist, I would know they are just inventing something they need to hear, and nothing that is going to do them a darn bit of good in the time they're living....more info
  • An excellent book
    I don't think Dr. jamison did anything irresponsable here. Nor did I find her grasping at scientific straws as I've heard it implied. My sister who read the book brought up the concern that I read here several times, which is, how did Dr. Jamison know these ppl were bipolar? She never claimed absolutely that they were. She did however point out very suspicious and in my opinion serious patterns and events that matched what we now know of bipolar. The illness is not *that* hit and miss. I think the ethiccal questions she raised were important. No, every bipolar is not an artistic genius, though overall bipolars are *more* creative than non bipolars. What happens to this creativity when we cure bipolar disorder? It's a good question. And a good book. People's personal distaste for or fear of mental illness notwithstanding, any open mind will find it's not making false claims, or glorifying pain. It's just examining some questions that should be brought to light....more info
  • A frustrating encounter with a brilliant mind
    This book has been recommended by many sources and I have made many attempts to read it. It is clear that Jamison brings an unusually humane and perceptive appreciation for the full experience of the person with Bipolar Disorder. However, she communicates much of her message through the biographies of "famous people"-- in order to make her point that creativity corresponds with bipolarity. At the risk of being called illiterate, I must say the names and stories she used had no meaning to me. Add to that, I am bipolar and seem to have some undiagnosed reading difficulty similar to ADHD. That made it impossible to follow her message as she would keep switching from regular paragraphs to biographical quotes, etc. I would highly recommend this book only to an avid reader with a very high tolerance for transitions in content and shifts in format. It is a good book just have in one's reference library....more info
  • Let's you inside their minds
    I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. Jamison speak. In her book and in her speech, she does a wonderful job of explaining how it feels to have Bipolar Disorder. Her descriptions and guidance make it much easier to understand why this disorder generates such wonders and tragedies. I highly recommend her work to people who have Bipolar Disorder and their family members.

    Sheryl Gurrentz, author
    If Your Child is Bipolar...more info
  • THIS BOOK SAVED MY LIFE
    THIS BOOK BY KAY REDFIELD-JAMISON MADE ME REALIZE THAT MY ARTISTIC AND POETIC TALENTS ARE PROBABLY PRODUCTS OF MY MANIC-DEPRESSION, THAT I AM NOT TOTALLY MAD!!!! SHE ALSO PROVIDES A VERY LENGTHY LIST OF ALL THE TRULY GREAT PEOPLE WHO HAVE LIVED WITH AND DIED BECAUSE OF BIPOLAR DISORDER. THE NUMBER OF POETS, ARTISTS, WRITERS, COMPOSERS, ETC. IS ASTOUNDING. HERE I AM THINKING THAT I AM A POET/ARTIST WITH AN EMOTIONAL PROBLEM, WHEN ACTUALLY I AM AN EXCELLENT POET/ARTIST BECAUSE OF MY (DISABILITY) MANIC-DEPRESSION. THIS SITUATION GIVES NEW MEANING TO THE WORDS "ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENT."

    THE LIST OF BIPOLAR/MANIC-DEPRESSIVE PEOPLE (WITH SUPERIOR ARTISTIC ABILITIES) ALONE IS WORTH THE COST OF THE BOOK....more info

  • comprehensive, compassionate, informative
    as a creative woman living with bipolar disorder, i found this book extremely helpful. Kay Jameson has paved the way for an insurgence of writings about manic depression that I don't thingk would have emerged without her candid account of her struggles and triumph. I have read and heartily recommend all her books!...more info
  • Hey, stop taking your lithium!
    It's interesting. I'll give her that much. But first of all, Jamison has some misleading information in that not everyone she lists was necessarily suffering from bipolar. She has pulled out and listed every Byronic hero in the art, literature, and music community when half of these people are long dead and there is absolutely no way to prove such conjecture.

    I have bipolar, and this book makes me a little bit angry because it purely glorifies this illness by pointing out the star achievements of all those who supposedly had it, giving very little focus to the tragic, rollercoaster lives many of them led. This illness is not a "magic madness" or a "dark gift" or any of the other stupid things I've heard it called. It is an extremely difficult, extremely challenging bitch of a disease that is owed control and respect, but for heaven's sake don't write a book portraying it as if it's some kind of blessing. I know this was not Ms Jamison's intent, but this book paints a very romantic picture of an illness there is nothing romantic about. If I didn't know better, I'd almost think I should quit taking my lithium in order to be BRILLIANT.

    As a manic depressive herself, Ms Jamison should have known better....more info

  • Creativity and Fire
    HOw much of the creativity of fiery individuals is due to mood disorders? This book explores the connection of many who have been artistic and successful with mood disorder. Is there such a thing as an artistic temperament?...more info
  • You can be depressed without being a great artist
    This book is both psychological analysis and literary criticism. Its main thesis is that there is a causative connection between manic- depressive illness and creativity. But it chooses to establish this thesis in a largely anecodotal and inconclusive way. Of the tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of creative figures we know of as part of world culture she selects less than a dozen, and tells their story. She tells the story often with an overabundance of quotation and without great conviction. All this contrasts with the surprising power of her first book , " An Unquiet Mind".
    There is another problem. All of us have moods, and that means that all of us are down sometimes. And that too means that most of us have a certain tendency to depression. Mankind is a bipolar creature in this sense perpetually on the continuum of moods. Does it make much sense to choose those artists who were deeply depressed and analyze that depression as cause of their art ? Why not analyze the much more numerous group of people who are not artists, or who failed completely in art and were depressed?
    I also would say that the depressive, or manic - depressive label seems to me tremendously simple when it comes to talking about creative personalities whose understanding of moods , and whose creation of them is so various and rich. We know little about the emotional life of Shakespeare. Was the creator of so rich a world of characters depressed? What about Goethe with his Olympian serenity and his power of overcoming? Tolstoy was a very deep depressive but his major depression came after he had created his great works and not before it.
    In short I am suspicious of the thesis of the work, and certainly do not believe it has been proven here. Redfield is a very good writer and provides much interesting information mainly in the literary department. ...more info
  • Manic-Depression and Creativity.
    _Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament_ by psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison is a study of the role of manic-depressive illness, psychosis, and depression in the lives of artists, writers, musicians, and poets. Unfortunately there is a tendency to assume that all individuals who are particularly intense, eccentric, moody, or creatively inspired are manic-depressive; however, this is simply not the case. While many of the individuals described by the author in this book did indeed suffer breakdowns, engaged in self-destructive behaviors, or were prone to wild changes in mood, there is little reason to assume that mental illness is an essential component of creativity. Furthermore, as with all of her books, the author seems unable to face the dark, destructive side of things and tends to romanticize mental illness. In addition, she tends to associate manic-depression with high social status, artistic accomplishment, creativity, and genius which not only serves to re-inforce stereotypes but also takes away from the genuine suffering of those who are not so blessed. As with all her books, this one is really for the high IQ, highly socially connected, creative manic type who is capable of channeling his changes in mood into artistic and creative endeavors. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those who suffer from this illness are not so capable. Thus, it is a fallacy to suppose that manic-depression is either an essential component of creativity or that it entails creativity. Many individuals suffer alone and in silence from depression or other mental disorders and they never have much hope of accomplishing works of greatness. And many of those who are manic engage in various self-destructive behaviors without ever accomplishing a work of high quality. In fact, in many cases either mania or depression may prohibit an individual from accomplishing valuable work. While one is in the throes of mania or depression one is simply unable to concentrate and thus lacks the necessary mental resources to focus on accomplishment. This is the unfortunate fact of the matter, and I believe her books do not face up to this reality, ignoring the social issues raised by severe mental illness and the dark, destructive side of manic-depression. Furthermore, many of the individuals discussed in this book eventually were to take their own lives (or starve themselves to death or engage in risky behaviors which led to their death), and thus the world was robbed of any future accomplishments they may have brought forth. In addition, there is also the tendency to apply the label of manic-depressive to all individuals who may have had breakdowns. This leads the author to conclude for example that van Gogh suffered from manic-depression and not schizophrenia as previously believed. I think that while there is some evidence to indicate that van Gogh suffered from an affective disorder, there also is the fact of his hallucinations and psychosis which are less easily explained (perhaps epilepsy or some other psychotic disorder). Thus, the author prematurely reduces all signs of temperamental instability or nervous breakdown to an instance of manic-depression, and this reduction may be unwarranted. In addition, there is always difficulty involved in any sort of retroactive diagnosis, and ultimately like most attempts at this endeavor it becomes pretty pointless.

    What this book does include is some fairly interesting descriptions of both manic and depressive states in certain inspired individuals. As someone who has experienced a great deal of inner conflict at times, I could relate to many of these descriptions even if I could not relate to some of the more outlandish behaviors. The author includes discussions of the supposed seasonal nature of this illness, emphasizing the role of biological cycles (the role of light and dark for example) and proposing possible theories to explain them. The author attempts to relate this to peaks and troughs in creative output among artists and writers. This for me was fairly interesting and I could relate it to periodic changes in my own life. The author assumes that manic-depressive illness is inherited, although she does not really suggest an adequate evolutionary theory to explain it. To some this may still be a debatable point, as it has not been conclusively proven yet. She does attempt to show an association between creativity in near relatives of those afflicted with this illness and those who possess the full blown form of this illness. However, it should be pointed out that manic-depression is not something that neatly fits into categories. Many individuals who possess this illness in one form or another do so to varying degrees and there are many variations in the manner in which it affects them. The author contends that mania (given the tendency of manics to exhibit a flight of ideas) is a natural conducer of creativity. She illustrates this for example by quoting some remarks made about Coleridge (who she claims suffered from this illness), showing his tendency to rapidly move from idea to idea linked by the most tenuous of associations while at the height of his manic state. However, it should be pointed out that often the thinking of manics can become so disordered with thoughts and ideas linked together by such tenuous threads that it becomes impossible to focus rendering any creative advantage effective moot and reducing the stream of consciousness produced to nonsense. On the other hand, the author also contends that melancholic states may also lead to creativity as the individual overcomes them, because they allow for philosophical reflection and doubt. This seems more probable; however, again it must be pointed out that in the throes of severe depression thoughts are likely to be singly focused and thinking slowed down. The author provides a fairly interesting sketch of the life of Lord Byron, showing both his flamboyant temperament as well as the troubled history of his family. The author also provides genealogies of various individuals including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Schuman, The James Family (William and Henry James in particular), Herman Melville, Samuel Taylor Colderidge, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, and Vincent Van Gogh. Among others discussed in the book, the author also examines the lives of Poe, Lowell, Blake, and Keats concluding that they all were manic-depressives. Following this, the author turns to a discussion of the use of the drug lithium. She shows not only the positive effects of this drug in dampening the oscillations of manic-depression, but also some of the side effects that may be associated with this drug. Among these, particularly disturbing is the blunting of emotion and a decline in creativity. Whether or not this actually occurs and to what extent this is a necessary trade-off is really a question that must be answered on an individual basis. The author also provides an interesting discussion of the potentially horrifying consequences of modern genetics. In the past, many eugenicists did not propose the elimination of manic-depression because many individuals from prominent families possessed this illness. However, with the rise of modern genetics it may happen that certain individuals will attempt to eliminate this illness entirely. Particularly horrifying is the idea that mothers will abort or will be forced to abort their babies if they are believed to be carriers of this illness.

    As someone who at times has suffered from much of this myself, I found this book to be both enlightening and disturbing. While many interesting points were raised about this illness, I did feel that the real social issues involved were not being addressed. On the other hand, I wonder if a useful study could be made on the prevalence of this illness among mathematicians and philosophers for example. I am aware of at least two famous mathematicians who suffered from this illness (Norbert Weiner and Georg Cantor) and my experience tells me that many more do also.
    ...more info
  • A dangerous conclusion.
    The best thing about Kay R. Jamison's book "Touched With Fire" is the biographical content. But the worst thing is not her contention that the handmaiden of creativity is bipolar disorder; it is her insistence that genes are responsible for the disorder. The debate has raged in my family for years. One brother, who receives Freudian counselling for what he believes is depressive illness, claims the defective gene infects our entire family. He cites as evidence books like "Touched With Fire," and the fact that an aunt has spent the majority of her life institutionalized for mental illness. Depending on the label de jour, said brother has diagnosed her psychotic, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, and now psychlothymic and bipolar. She was badly abused by an alcoholic husband early in her life. She retreated into a fetal position and eventually unfurled with aid of pharmaceuticals. Whether the abuse triggered a predisposition to psychosis or simply destroyed her will to live and function, is open to speculation. But to extrapolate from her tragic condition a diagnosis of defective genealogy on an entire family is a travesty that is perpetuated by pop-cult theory, exemplified by authors like Kay R. Jamison. And to argue that a great many psychiatric professionals concur with the gene theory is ad-populum falaciousness. Another anecdote will serve to illustrate the damaging potential of the gene theory. I was engaged to be married to a woman whose only brother and sister, both diagnosed manic-schizophrenic, committed suicide exactly a year apart. I told my fiance about my aunt's mental illness. My fiance did not think it a concern until somebody in my family convinced her of the then new genetic theory regarding schizophrenia. Our wedding was cancelled. Though I disagreed, I had to empathise with my fiance's decision; as a young girl in a loving family she had twice endured the worst imaginable tragedy. And I don't blame my family for their guileless concern. I do, however, take exception to a defective-gene theory based strictly on anecdotal evidence, a theory that for some unexplained reason ignores the possibility that a defective familial philosophic epistemology skews the perceptual transition to conceptual comprehension of reality in susceptible offspring. This means that for children in the tabula rasa state parents are a powerful cource of information when it comes to interpreting reality. Philosophies, namely those of the Platonic, Hegelian, Kantian variety, convey dichotomies wherein mysticism reconciles reality in lieu of empirical evidence. In particular, Kant, considered by many the modern world's most influential thinker(ad populum), teaches that reality exists only in the subjective experience of the perceiver. One of the symptoms of advanced manic depressive illness and schizophrenia is a condition known as solipsism, where the afflicted individual believes he or she is in complete control of reality, able, for instance, to will the weather to change -- reality exists only in the subective experience of the perceiver. When Kantian philosophy is given to children who are naturally credulous, they ofen suffer cognitive dissonance, dissociative disorder, and possibly depressive illness borne of difficulty reconciling reality with Kantian philosophy. When Kay lends the weight of her credentials to the gene theory, she is promoting something tantamount to reasoning that racism is genetic, which it isn't. Racism is handed down generation to for further reading, a book by Luis A. Sass, titled "Madness And Modernism -- Insanity In The Light Of Modern Art, Literature, And Thought."...more info
  • Paradoxically Inspirational
    Thankfully Jamison added a little culture into this book. For the artists and writers who are dealing with manic-depression, swimming through a barrage of scientific mumbo jumbo and left-brained analysis, I'd recommend this. For not only will it build your self-esteem when you discover the distinguished company you associate with, but it may lighten your fact-filled head with some beautiful poetry written by some of the greatest poets to have walked the fields....more info
  • Way off.
    Jamison's opinion of Herman Melville is way off. Melville has been appropriated to most every taste, and need. Difficult to accept that given his achievement, he was surprisingly 'normal.' Wagneknecht had it right, in reading Melville, one must distinguish between biography and autobiography of the reviewer....more info
  • Disengenuously Glorifies Manic Depression
    I really liked Jamison's memoir, An Unquiet Mind, except for her obvious (to a degree well-deserved) hubris. The result of her overestimation of her abilities resulted in this charlatan of a book. This book trades on her knowledge after the fact that certain people who are creative are or may be bipolar. I can understand Jamison, who is bipolar, desiring to make manic depression a glorious pathway to creativity, but I believe it distracts hurtfully from the sane and sober approach to understanding and treating people who suffer from manic depression. Her enthusiasm for this subject is SADLY misplaced. I also don't believe in psychoanalysis of people long dead and concluding they are bipolar. Her theme disastrously parallels the adulation of many authors who have been alcoholics and many who have committed suicide. Severe mental illness and alcoholism should not be used in a pseudo- positive and bogus way to elevate those who suffer from these illnesses onto a pedestal.
    Perhaps the major problem is that people will go back into the past and find a perfectly normal, sane and great author like John Keats abd then gather evidence that he was really bipolar. Manic depression or bipolar disorder are still squishy, amorphous terms that label people effectively for certain purposes but don't really identify what is specifically wrong with a person who has been labelled bipolar I. Miss Jamison seems to have clearly suffered from Bipolar I, but very, very few people can be categorized so precisely and neatly. Manic depression is a spectrum illness with very many sufferers who cannot be labelled neatly as Bipolar I or II or any other subset of manic depression. The terms are often helpful, but they are NOT tantamount to the physical law of gravity or even an illness said to be panic disorder. What I get from this book and her memoir (and the fact that she has achieved great academic and publishing success) is a woman who thinks she knows it all. Her book on suicide is also tendentious and ultimately harmful and unenlightening. She needs a dose of humility....more info
  • interesting but irresponsible
    I really wish people would quit associating creativity with mental illness, especially the so-called "experts" in the field such as the author of this book. She wrote the book on manic depressive illness back in the day, she suffers from it herself and yet she could not refrain from what constitutes bad science in the scholarship of this book. How do we know the artists and poets in this book were bipolar? We do not as they are long dead, of natural causes or by their own hand. Anne Sexton was mentally ill most of her creative life, but was never correctly diagnosed and spent her time between thorazine and alcohol, self-medicating with the latter up until her suicide. We do not know that she was bipolar though. Nor do we know that of Sylvia Plath or TS Eliot. If this book is meant to bring some meaning to the bipolar person's creative existence, it succeeds, but at the expense of the bipolar's sanity. A person should not quit meds in order to get in touch with the creative self. The author does not condone this, but it sure doesn't look that way when you read this book and find yourself convinced of her premise: madness and creativity go hand in hand. I do not know any bipolar people who plan to quit lithium and get in touch with the inner muse, and the bipolar people that I do know are pretty disgusted with this book overall. Left untreated, lots of people could end up like Van Gogh (was he indeed bipolar?), but couldn't a room full of chimps on typewriters also come up with one Shakespeare manuscript?...more info
  • An informative and curiously interesting book.
    Kay Redfield Jamison writes with a strong knowledge of the subject. In this book, she researches the question of artistic talent, creativity, and it's relationship to manic depressive illness. The facts are stunning. I was unaware that such a strong link existed, but it does make sense. Famous authors, poets, and painters are explored, and their struggle with this very debilitating disease is illuminated in these pages. Manic depressive illness is portrayed as a double edged sword, one that destroys even as it creates. Ms. Jamison researches the question of treatment, and whether or not treating/eradicating manic depressive illness does not also involve the stifling of creativity. Some famous authors are even known to have said that their suffering is a part of who they are, and without it, they could not create. The forms of treatment are also explored, and the pros and cons of Lithium and other medication discussed. This author has done her homework, and this book will inform and delight anyone interested in this subject. The only reason I gave it four stars instead of five is because the statistics (though necessary) get boring....more info
  • Fascinating but scholarly
    The biographical content and thesis of this book are wonderful. However, for a lay audience it sometimes wanders into the academic arcane. At some moments, KRJ lapses into a discourse clearly meant for her professional colleagues who aren't quite up to date on either the science or history of this disorder. The rest of us just have to wait these intervals out. I recommend this book for those interested in poets and poetry, and for those who teach about them....more info
  • way way too much
    This book was too hard to follow. The author assumes that the reader (me) understands or has a dictionary is hand at all times. Which of course I did not. ...more info
  • Excellent
    Dr. Jamison tells about how the artist is more likely to suffer from manic illness than other careers. This books gives insight to the highs and lows of the great writers and artists of the English and American world. An excellent read for those interested in the psychology of artist and their temperaments....more info
  • This Book Helped ME
    If you or a loved one are trying to understand bi-polar disorder this is a fantastic book....more info
  • Brilliant
    But what else do you expect from Jamison? Opens the door,and explains mystical traits of MD in detail. Really lovely, and Important Book....more info
  • It's hard to write objectively about your own illness.
    Personally, I think she should have called it 'The Bell Jar Curve'...more info
  • An interesting analysis
    All of Kay's books are great, and "Touched With Fire" is no exception- it's well written, well researched, easy to follow, and very interesting. Kay summarizes many of the relevant studies on the subject of bipolar disorder and creativity, and some of these studies are her own. I agree that bipolar disorder probably has a higher rate of prevalance in the artistic community, though I don't think this is the whole story- many artists simply don't exhibit the disorder, so what about them? What I really believe is that artists have a super high level of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which may be the chemical that is cycling up and down in bipolar disorder. Either way, this is a very interesting book that will appeal to a broad audience. Avery Z. Conner, author of "Fevers of the Mind"....more info
  • Artistic Endeavor
    Having been recently diagnosed with Bipolar I want to learn everything I can about the disease. My psychiatrist recommended this book. It is not an easy read, and I kept a dictionary in arms reach. The book, however, has inspired the artist inside of me and I have begun writing, and writing well to my own amazement. The book has touched my soul and spurred me on to profound thinking....more info
  • Thank You
    Though not perfect, this book helped me to understand my and my family's struggle with various forms of manic depression and depression. Particularly helpful was the pattern of unconcious genetic parings that can increase or minimize odds of the illness surfacing. This has been the case in my family tree....more info

 

 
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