Crazy Like Us : The Globalisation of the American Psyche By Ethan Watters

by |May 31, 2010

In Crazy Like Us, Ethan Watters reveals that the most devastating consequence of the spread of American culture has not been its golden arches or bomb craters, but the bulldozing of the human psyche itself: it is in the process of homogenising the way the world goes mad.

For the past 30 years, America has been the world leader in mental-health research, and Western definitions of mental illness are prevailing over indigenous beliefs around the globe. In this book, journalist Ethan Watters travels from Hong Kong to Zanzibar to bring home an unsettling conclusion: as America introduces Westernised ways of treating mental illnesses, it is in fact spreading the diseases.

In post-tsunami Sri Lanka, Watters reports on the Western trauma counsellors who, in their rush to help, inadvertently trampled local expressions of grief, suffering, and healing; in Japan, Watters reveals the truth about a multi-million-dollar campaign by one of the world’s biggest drug companies to change the Japanese experience of depression — literally marketing the disease along with the drug; in Hong Kong he studies the rise and rise of anorexia; and in Zanzibar he investigates the cultural impact on schizophrenics.

By examining the Western impact on the psyches of people in other cultures, Watters forces us to take a fresh look at our own approaches to mental health and healing. It turns out that we may have as much to learn from other cultures’ beliefs about the mind as we have to teach them.


What the Press have to say about CRAZY LIKE US:

‘Offering the latest Western mental health theories in an attempt to ameliorate the psychological stress caused by globalisation is not a solution; it is part of the problem … It is the psychiatric equivalent of handing out blankets to sick natives without considering the pathogens that hide deep in the fabric.’

‘…in addition to the cultural flotsam that drives the rest of the world crazy, America is literally exporting its mental illnesses…[Watters] is on to something worth pondering.’ – Time magazine

‘Crazy Like Us is both groundbreaking and shocking…Whether Watters’ book will be sand in the engines of the bulldozers remains to be seen. At least it proves the West, despite its best intentions, does not possess all the answers.’ – The Boston Globe

‘Ethan Watters’s insightful and original study … demonstrates how widely and deeply DSM diagnoses have permeated other cultures, to the point of redefining how they think about mental illness … A brilliant book, it deserves a thoughtful read, as well as all the praise that has been bestowed on it.’ Christopher Lane, PhD  – Psychology Today

‘If you thought McDonald’s and strip malls were the ugliest of America’s cultural exports, think again. Western ideas about mental illness — from anorexia to post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, general anxiety and clinical depression — as well as Western treatments have been sweeping the globe with alarming speed, argues journalist Watters (Urban Tribes), and are doing far more damage than Big Macs and the Gap. In this well-traveled, deeply reported book, Watters takes readers from Hong Kong to Zanzibar, to Tsunami ravaged Sri Lanka, to illustrate how distinctly American psychological disorders have played in far-off locales, and how Western treatments, from experimental, unproven drugs to talk therapy, have clashed with local customs, understandings and religions.’ – Publishers Weekly

‘Crazy Like Us is a blistering and truly original work of reporting and analysis, uncovering America’s role in homogenizing how the world defines wellness and healing.’ Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock

‘A devastating account of America’s psychological adventures abroad. The stories Watters tells will move you, surprise you, and occasionally infuriate you, and they will change the way you think about culture, human nature, and the mind.’  – Paul Tough, author of Whatever it Takes

‘Ethan Watters has a truly original take on the way our country shapes the expression of mental illness around the globe. His is one of those books you can’t stop thinking about or referring to in conversation, that permanently changes your perspective on beliefs you took for granted.’ – Peggy Orenstein, author of Waiting for Daisy

‘Ethan Watters has traveled the world to look at how globalization reaches far beyond economics and into people’s very conceptions of what constitutes health and sanity. I find his book provocative, original, and convincing.’ Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains and King Leopold’s Ghost

‘I couldn’t put it down. Crazy Like Us is a fascinating and provocative intellectual travelogue, and Watters is a fearless guide.’ Alan Burdick, author of Out of Eden

‘Searing, startling, and utterly unforgettable. Ethan Watters brilliantly surveys the stark interior cost of globalization, from our export of stress disorders to Sri Lanka to our marketing of depression in Japan as ‘a cold of the soul.’ Crazy Like Us is a grand tour of the new global psyche, distorted and darkened by the export of the American dream.’  – Jason Roberts, National Book Critics Circle finalist for A Sense of the World.

ETHAN WATTERS is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Discover, Men’s Journal, Spin, Details, and Wired. A frequent contributor to National Public Radio, Watters’ work has been featured in the 2007 and 2008 editions of Best American Science and Nature Writing. He co-founded the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, a work space for local artists. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and children.

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