Review: Emotional Fossils: Mental Illness and Human Evolution by John V. Wylie

Emotional Fossils: Mental Illness and Human Evolution by John V. Wylie

4 of 5 stars

Book Blurb:
This essay is the culmination of forty-five years as a psychiatrist investigating the relationship between severe mental illnesses and human evolution. I have concluded that the most important changes leading to our evolutionary success occurred inside the mind. Upright posture, large molar teeth, opposable thumbs, large brains, and the onset of culture were additive responses to the evolution of what MOTIVATED early humans.

The most important audience for this book are those who have experienced serious mental illness in themselves or loved ones. The inner experiences of major depression, panic disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder are shown to derive from the breakdown of normal emotions we all know intimately. These everyday feelings are ancient, have played a central role in our evolution, and thus can be viewed as "emotional fossils." Stigmatized for centuries, mental illnesses are revealed to be the price we pay as a species for the extraordinary mental capacities that make us human.

Short and explicitly written to be accessible, this essay interprets the scientific findings of human evolution in accordance with an evolving mind.

Book Review:

This book, or, as the author prefers to term it, this essay is very interesting and illuminating. Even for a casual student of psychology, evolution, mental health or medicine, this will be an engaging book, based on facts and referring to multiple studies for added depth of information.

However, while the blurb says this book is accessible for a layperson, I would like to disagree slightly. I am a layperson in this field, as while I am interested in this subject, I have not studied psychology or mental health on an academic level. I thought this book would be wonderful, which it was. I also expected it to be easy for me to understand, which it wasn't.

Don't get me wrong - it is very educational, and I am more aware for having read it, but it is not a breezy read by any means and you should probably set aside some time to read this book when you can concentrate on it and do justice to the subject matter, because this book certainly deserves it. There is much to delve into and do a deep dive into, so make full use of the resources this book provides to further educate yourself.

The topic itself is well researched, as one would expect from a book written by a psychiatrist with over 35 years of practice. The author is truly an authority who has much to say about the subject, and says it wonderfully well. Indeed, I saw a few things I came across in my previous readings on the topic, illuminated in a new way with a fresh perspective. Dr. Wylie's takes on many of these papers and hypotheses are well researched and presented, as is his own research and findings.

I assume for people working in the field of psychiatry or mental health, this book will be even more meaningful than it was for me. In this day and age, when we are trying to remove the stigma associated with mental health, and be more caring and understanding about the lives of our fellow humans, this is a pertinent read. If you have no knowledge on this subject whatsoever, I would suggest, at the very least, a basic primer before you read this book. You will be able to connect to the subject matter in a relatively easy and more meaningful way.

*A review copy was provided to Oh Just Books by the author in exchange for an honest review*