SCIENCES

Lithium: A Doctor, a Drug, and a Breakthrough

Liveright: Norton. Jul. 2019. 288p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781631491993. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631492006. MED
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Brown (psychiatry, Brown Univ.) traces the history and controversy surrounding the research about and subsequent use of lithium, a natural element that became crucial for the treatment of manic-depressive disorder. Australian psychiatrist John Cade discovered lithium’s impact on bipolar patients in his hospital practice. Brown notes that, initially, Cade’s work was overlooked because of his lack of research training as well as his geographic location. Slowly, subsequent researchers in England and Scandinavia picked up Cade’s thesis on lithium. Debates continued over the drug’s use in the scientific community, but eventually research evolved and clinicians worldwide became comfortable in prescribing it for manic-depressive disorder. This important history of psychiatry shows the complexity of empirical research and quantification, as well as the ways that subjective research reports are received. At the same time, it notes that after further empirical research by others, Cade’s thesis became accepted, and lithium served as a standard prescription for the treatment of some mental illnesses.
VERDICT Those interested in the history of medicine, psychiatry, and medical research will find this an important and engagingly written book.

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