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Bipolar Expeditions:
Mania and Depression in American Culture
Emily Martin

Winner of the 2009 Diana Forsythe Prize, Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing of the General Anthropology Division, and the Society for the Anthropology of Work, American Anthropological Association

Paperback | 2009 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691141060
400 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 19 halftones. 6 tables.
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Manic behavior holds an undeniable fascination in American culture today. It fuels the plots of best-selling novels and the imagery of MTV videos, is acknowledged as the driving force for successful entrepreneurs like Ted Turner, and is celebrated as the source of the creativity of artists like Vincent Van Gogh and movie stars like Robin Williams. Bipolar Expeditions seeks to understand mania's appeal and how it weighs on the lives of Americans diagnosed with manic depression.

Anthropologist Emily Martin guides us into the fascinating and sometimes disturbing worlds of mental-health support groups, mood charts, psychiatric rounds, the pharmaceutical industry, and psychotropic drugs. Charting how these worlds intersect with the wider popular culture, she reveals how people living under the description of bipolar disorder are often denied the status of being fully human, even while contemporary America exhibits a powerful affinity for manic behavior. Mania, Martin shows, has come to be regarded as a distant frontier that invites exploration because it seems to offer fame and profits to pioneers, while depression is imagined as something that should be eliminated altogether with the help of drugs.

Bipolar Expeditions argues that mania and depression have a cultural life outside the confines of diagnosis, that the experiences of people living with bipolar disorder belong fully to the human condition, and that even the most so-called rational everyday practices are intertwined with irrational ones. Martin's own experience with bipolar disorder informs her analysis and lends a personal perspective to this complex story.


"[Emily Martin's] serious and engaging a much an ethnographical study as it is an autobiographical account. Martin...goes beyond just seeing how medicated bipolar patients deal with their illness: she argues that at least one aspect of bipolar disorder is today seen as a model for a certain type of productive behavior in society. This positive reading of mania be part of the way that bipolar patients internalize their illness. Martin's book documents our late 20th and early 21st century and its treatment and rehabilitation of bipolar disorder. In examining our world she shows how we have moved from [a] culture of narcissism to a world of mania."--Sander L. Gilman, Lancet

"This book is exceptional in that it spans the fields of anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, and sociology. Martin expertly incorporates the literature from these fields with lay perspectives and experiences from support groups and clinical subjects. This book provides new insights and a deeper understanding of the bipolar experience in America."--Rif S. El-Mallakh, American Journal of Psychiatry

"Anthropologist Martin continues with her long-standing project of unpacking U.S. values, categories, and, in this case, psychopathology as artifacts of history and society with a focus on their cultural rendering, shifting content, and context....General audiences as well as specialists who have particular interest in the social and cultural life of mental health in the contemporary U.S. will appreciate this book."--S. Ferzacca, Choice

"If there is a single thread that runs through this timely, well-researched and wide-ranging book, it is that bipolar disorder is a framework of our time for understanding and even facilitating new conceptions of rationality, irrationality, mood and motivation."--Roy Richard Grinker, Project Muse

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