Kramer, Peter 1948–

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Kramer, Peter 1948–

(Peter D. Kramer)


Born October 22, 1948, in New York, NY; son of Eric (a pharmacist) and Lore (a school psychologist) Kramer; married Rachel Schwartz (a public health researcher), July 13, 1980; children: Sarah, Jacob, Matthew. Education: Harvard College, A.B. (with high honors), 1970; University College, London, Marshall Scholar in literature, 1970-72; Harvard Medical School, M.D., 1976.


Home—Providence, RI. Office—196 Waterman St., Providence, RI 02906. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected].


Psychiatrist, educator, and writer. George Washington University, Washington, DC, instructor, 1980, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, 1981-82; Brown University, Providence, RI, assistant professor, 1982-85, assistant clinical professor, 1985-91, associate clinical professor of psychiatry, 1991-95, clinical professor of psychiatry, 1995—. Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, Rockville, MD, acting deputy director and acting director, Division of Science, 1980-81, special assistant for science to the administrator, 1981-82. Consultant to various organizations, 1986-87. Also host of public radio series The Infinite Mind, 2005—. Morse College, Yale University, New Haven, CT, visiting fellow, 2005.


American Psychiatric Association (member of private practice committee, 1988—; chair, 1992; fellow, 1993-2002, distinguished fellow, 2003—), Rhode Island Psychiatric Society (president, 1990-91).


Jacob E. Finesinger Visiting Professor, University of Maryland, 1997; Harry Stack Sullivan Award, Enoch and Sheppard Pratt Hospitals, Towson, MD, 1999; Milton Rosenbaum Memorial Award (inaugural recipient), Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 2003; National Mental Health Association Media Award. National Mental Health Association, 2004, for host of Infinite Mind radio series episode on mental health care for immigrants; Gracie Award, American Women in Radio and Television, Inc., 2004, for Infinite Mind radio episode on domestic violence.


Moments of Engagement: Intimate Psychotherapy in a Technological Age, Norton (New York, NY), 1989.

Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores Mood-altering Drugs and the Meaning of the Self, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.

Should You Leave?, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.

Spectacular Happiness (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.

Against Depression, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.

Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind, Atlas Books: HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to numerous books, including 1987-88 Humanities Booklet Number Two, Trinity Repertory Company, 1987; Empathy in Medical Practice: Beyond Pills and Scalpel, Yale University Press, 1993; Interpersonal Communication: Building Foundations for Succcess, edited by M. Burch, Kendall/Hunt, 2004; and Simply Lasting: Writers on Jane Kenyon, edited by J Peseroff, Graywolf Press, 2005. Contributor of articles to scientific journals, including American Journal of Bioethics, American Journal of Public Health, Archives of General Psychiatry. General Hospital Psychiatry, and the American Journal of Psychiatry; contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book Review, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and the Times Literary Supplement of London. Author of monthly column, "Peter Kramer: Practicing," in Psychiatric Times.Psychiatric Times, senior editor, 1985—; Psychodynamic Letter, member of editorial board, 1990-92.


Peter Kramer is a practicing psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Brown University whose book Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores Mood-altering Drugs and the Meaning of the Self became a best seller. Prozac is the brand name for the antidepressant drug fluoxetine, which was prescribed to more than five million people in the United States during the first few years after it became available. In Listening to Prozac, Kramer addresses the questions surrounding this drug, including the claim that it can bring about violent behavior in some of its users. Kramer reviews the work of various researchers on how the drug operates and poses questions on the ethics of its use on certain types of patients, particularly those who may be curable through nonchemical means. "Kramer is a wonderful writer," wrote Carol Tavris in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "and his readers will learn much about the new research on temperament and personality, biological theories of mood disorders, and the behind-the-scenes stories of how psychiatric drugs were discovered or invented." Kramer himself has prescribed Prozac to his patients, and using statistics and examples from his experience, he delves into the complex issues surrounding a drug that he believes could change society in revolutionary ways. "Listening to Prozac is most valuable for the provocative questions that Kramer asks throughout the book," Tavris maintained.

Kramer considers his book Should You Leave? to be a book of advice. The book was sparked by Kramer's years of psychiatric practice, in which many of his patients did not necessarily need psychiatric treatment per se, but rather wanted guidance in making a major decision in their lives, often the decision whether or not to leave a spouse. Kramer readily acknowledges his position of influence in the self-help industry: "When a psychiatrist writes a best seller, he is next urged to write a book of advice," he explained in Should You Leave?

Within a framework of fictional case histories, Kramer explains that traditional psychotherapy is not concerned with the changing circumstances of patients' lives, only with their changing mental patterns. The book blurs the lines between therapy and advice as well as fiction and nonfiction. Much of the book relates hypothetical situations in which the patient is referred to as "you," and other sections concern Kramer's fictional mentor, Lou Adler, a man who wants to know whether or not he should leave his wife. Kramer also attempts to distinguish between what he calls "differentiation of self," and "autonomy," the former being a positive trait and the latter being overrated. In differentiation of self, Kramer relates, an individual retains his identity within a group—particularly his family—and can effectively navigate rough patches in nearly any relationship.

In answering the question of the book's title, Kramer tends to favor reconciliation, in part because people generally only achieve differentiation within a real relationship. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, writing in the New York Times, applauded the conclusion of Should You Leave?, which he called "a tour de force of analytical insight" that "somewhat redeems poor, battered Freudian psychology." Other critics also praised the book. Should You Leave? is a "thoughtful, finely nuanced work," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly, who concluded that Kramer's "composite case histories have the verisimilitude and insight that is the hallmark of the best—and truest—fiction."

With the publication of the novel Spectacular Happiness, Kramer became a full-fledged fiction writer. In the book, an unassuming community college instructor, Chip Samuels, bombs the garish new mansions that are popping up along the beachfront in his Cape Cod town. Chip is in alliance with a real estate agent who makes a living from selling the homes, and the pair find themselves the unlikely heroes of a "Free the Beaches" movement that prompts others to commit similar acts of ecoterrorism and propels Chip into the media spotlight. The book takes the form of Chip's explanations of his actions, which are tinged with the theories of Marx, Thoreau, and others, to his teenaged son, with whom Chip desperately wants to reconcile. Chip considers the explosions a form of art that he hopes will force people to contrast the absurdity of destruction with the absurdity of construction of such monstrous and unnecessary edifices. His radical actions are also partly inspired by his attempts to win back his ex-wife, Anaïs, who was originally attracted to Chip's hippie-ish radical views, but who has lately become a pill-popping avowed capitalist.

The novel reads "as a psychiatric fable," according to Jodi Kantor in the New York Times, with a plot that hinges on such unconventional topics as Ritalin and antidepressants. Kantor praised Chip's explanations of his actions, which "are like a rich series of therapy sessions, filled with slow shifts in self-awareness." Spectacular Happiness is a "serious novel of ideas," wrote David Gates in Newsweek. Suzanne Young, writing for Booklist called it a "stunning first novel" that is "rich in acute observation." A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented on the "near-total absence of dialogue and an extremely introspective approach" that characterize the prose, but wrote that Kramer "proves to be an extremely literate author."

Kramer's book Against Depression grew out of the author's experiences promoting his best selling book Listening to Prozac. While on tour, people often asked him what would have happened if Prozac had been available to people like Vincent van Gogh, intimating that perhaps the artist, and others like him, might not have been so creative if their depression had been treated. For Kramer, the question represents a misguided view that depression has benefits for certain artists and other people. In response, Kramer examines the reality of depression and makes a case for his belief that no disease should be left untreated. Drawing from recent studies of depression, the author discusses his views of depression and the creative personality. He also includes case studies showing how specific treatments for depression are beneficial. "Against Depression is partly a critique of the West's propensity for romanticizing depression, partly a survey of the latest research on the illness and its possible causes and cures, and partly a meditation on what our culture would look like if we stopped equating depression with refinement, profundity, insight and intelligence," wrote Laura Miller in a review on the Web site. New York Times contributor Natalie Angier called the book "eloquent, absorbing and largely persuasive."

Kramer once told CA: "What unites my work is my curiosity about how we experience the self and the other in the modern world. In Listening to Prozac, I asked how one modern technology—the antidepressant—affected our sense of self; in my prior book, Moments of Engagement, I asked how a different technology—psychotherapy—illuminates and distorts the self."



Kramer, Peter, Should You Leave?, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.


Booklist, June 1, 2001, Suzanne Young, review of Spectacular Happiness, p. 1847; March 1, 2005, Ray Olson, review of Against Depression, p. 1100; November 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind, p. 9.

Discover, August, 2005, Susan Kruglinski, "The End of Melancholy," p. 76.

Harper's, August, 2005, Gary Greenberg, "Misery's Fogs: Is Depression a Diagnosis or a Distraction?," p. 89.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2005, review of Against Depression, p. 275; October 15, 2006, review of Freud, p. 1058.

Library Journal, April 1, 2005, Mary Ann Hughes, review of Against Depression, p. 113; December 1, 2006, E. James Lieberman, review of Freud, p. 144.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 13, 1993, Carol Tavris, review of Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores Mood-altering Drugs and the Meaning of the Self, p. 1.

Newsweek, July 23, 2001, David Gates, "It's da Bomb: A Psychiatrist's First Novel Stars an Ecoterrorist," p. 55.

New York Times, December 18, 1997, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Advice to the Love-Torn, from Freud to Landers," p. E9; May 22, 2005, Natalie Angier, review of Against Depression.

New York Times Book Review, November 2, 1997, review of Should You Leave?, p. 32; August 26, 2001, Jodi Kantor, "Cape Crusader."

Publishers Weekly, July 7, 1997, review of Should You Leave?, p. 55; June 25, 2001, review of Spectacular Happiness, p. 48; March 21, 2005, review of Against Depression, p. 46.

Wall Street Journal, September 9, 1997, Cynthia Crossen, review of Should You Leave?, p. A16.


Brown University Web site, (August 3, 2007), author's curriculum vitae.

Penguin Group Web site, (August 3, 2007), brief profile of author., (May 27, 2005), Laura Miller, review of Against Depression.