A good education on addiction, fascinating case histories, and a sensible formula for treatment.

DOPAMINE NATION

FINDING BALANCE IN THE AGE OF INDULGENCE

An addiction specialist discusses her patients’ problems and how she deals with them, and it’s an unsettling picture.

Lembke, medical director of the Stanford Addiction Medicine clinic, begins with a lesson in neuroscience. Nerves along brain pathways that process rewards (i.e., pleasure) use dopamine as a “neurotransmitter”—to deliver signals. The more dopamine an experience releases, the more we enjoy it. However, dopamine processes pain as well as pleasure, and a healthy brain maintains a balance. Most of us stop eating when we feel full. Coffee often provides all the stimulation we need. Gambling, drinking, shopping, or watching pornography are intermittent activities. Addiction, the mark of an unhealthy brain, is a compulsive behavior that continues despite the harm it causes, and it’s a worldwide epidemic. The biggest risk factor is easy access. History books proclaim Prohibition a failure, but it produced a big drop in alcoholism, public drunkenness, and alcohol-caused liver disease, which rose again after repeal. Today, it seems, all indulgences are accessible. Since around 2000, the rampant overprescription of narcotics has produced skyrocketing addiction and death. The internet allows us to engage in social as well as unseemly activities in private. Popular medical books rely on vivid case histories, and Lembke offers plenty. Her first is a lifelong masturbation addict who was ultimately able to achieve control. There follow accounts of other types of addicts, and she describes her treatment strategy based on the acronym DOPAMINE: data, objectives, problems, abstinence, mindfulness, insight, next steps, and experiment. Most readers will find it reasonable, and the author does not trumpet its success rate. Some of the most insightful passages involve lying, a malignant process in a cooperative society but essential to maintaining addictive behavior. Many people believe that honesty—unmasking our flaws—will drive people away, but it does the opposite.

A good education on addiction, fascinating case histories, and a sensible formula for treatment.

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4672-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 20

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more