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Genetics of Mental Disorders: A Guide for Students, Clinicians, Researchers, is an up-to-date and interesting review of the (relatively) new field of Psychiatric Genetics. My first impression of the book upon seeing the title was that it would provide an update on the latest attempts to clone the genes responsible for psychiatric disorders. Works of this nature tend to be out-of-date before they hit the shelves. I was therefore both pleasantly surprised and conversely mildly disappointed to find that over all the book avoids such updates, and instead focuses on a more timeless theme, namely how do researchers in the field of psychiatric genetics think and what are the tools of their trade?
The book has certain major strengths and weaknesses. Strengths include that it is well written and generally readable. The authors are important researchers in the field. It is also the only book I am aware of that tackles this difficult topic at a level that can be understood by someone not actively working in the field. It puts in perspective the struggle to identify and clone genes that are involved in complex disorders such as mental illnesses. It also addresses why, as yet, we have not located genes for such disorders as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, alcoholism and ADHD (all of which have convincingly been demonstrated to be heritable, at least in part).
One of my complaints about the book is that it does not seem to know exactly who is its audience. The book flap describes it as "a touchstone for clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other mental health professionals." It also suggests it would be a "resource" for students and researchers as well as a textbook. By trying to do all of the above, it tends not to be selective of any particular audience. For example, the "Molecular Genetics" chapter reviews the basic nature of DNA, something which one hopes is not needed by the researchers and psychiatrists. However, at other times, the material might be beyond the scope of some non-biologically trained mental health professionals. The book often reads like a textbook with, largely unnecessary, inset "Key Points" and often speaks to the reader directly.
For example on page 170 it reads, "If you were to find one case of Alzheimer disease in a family, you might . . .." It does not read well as a text for researchers in that its references are in my opinion woefully inadequate. For example, work done by Dr. Ed Cook was cited, but no references were presented to lead one to the actual published article. And, short of going back to the professional journals, I know little more than I did before about the actual progress in cloning the genes of interest to mental health professionals.
This book serves best as a form of self-education for those interested in psychiatric genetics who do not have the time or background to go to original articles. It might also assist a clinician in helping a client put into perspective any genetic counseling they might receive elsewhere. It is certainly not a book intended to train the clinician to provide genetic counseling to their clients. It is also too technical for most of the lay audience that might be attracted to knowing more about their personal or family risk of mental illness.
In short, read it if it interests you and you will learn something. Don't expect it to speak to you personally at all points and don't expect it to make a geneticist out of you.
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