A Family Tree Filled with Mental Illness – Johns Hopkins’ Psychiatrist Dean F. MacKinnon Reviews ‘A Lethal Inheritance’

I happily share this book review from the Dana Foundation website, a wonderful resource on brain science that I’ve just discovered. An excerpt follows and then a link to Dean Mackinnon’s comprehensive critique of my book, which, amazingly, includes a drawing he did of my psychiatric family tree. Now that doesn’t happen every day!

The personal tales of Ms. Costello’s family constitute only one of the two major agendas of the book. Her other aim is to use these stories as a framework for her explorations into our state of knowledge about the causes, nature, and treatment of a variety of mental disorders. She seeds the book through and through with inserts and digressions that cogently summarize topics such as the common psychiatric disorders of childhood, the data on the link between antidepressants and adolescent suicides, psychotherapeutic approaches to schizophrenia, detection of and intervention for suicidal risk, and of course, the solid evidence for genetic factors in psychiatric disorder—which at this point is largely epidemiologic, based on old-school family, twin, and adoption studies.

In journalistic reviews of the scientific literature I always look out for the odd bit of pseudoscience or pop psychology that might undermine one’s confidence in the author’s understanding of the topic. Happily, I find that Ms. Costello’s science and medical reporting, on topics both biological and clinical, is quite sound. Indeed, she not only avoids bad science, but she also avoids gushing overenthusiastically about the trendiest, most evanescent discoveries. I was consistently impressed with her scholarship and her way of making sense of science without resorting to jargon. She even goes the extra mile—late in the book she enrolls in a study on psychobiological markers of schizophrenia and describes the research process from the inside out.

A Family Tree Filled with Mental Illness – Dana Foundation.

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