Whitaker, Robert 1953(?)-

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WHITAKER, Robert 1953(?)-


Born c. 1953.


Home—Cambridge, MA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Perseus Books Group, 5500 Central Avenue, Boulder, CO 80301.


Author, science journalist, and publisher. Albany Union Times, features/medical writer, 1989-94; Harvard Medical School, director of publications, 1994. Founder of Center Watch, a journal covering business aspects of clinical trials in the development of new drugs.


George Polk Award for Medical Writing; National Association of Science Writers' Award for best magazine article; Knight Science Journalism Fellowship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993; Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1998.


Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, Perseus Publishing (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of short stories to magazines, including Indiana Review, Black Warrior Review, Florida Review, and Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Prose.


In Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, science journalist Robert Whitaker offers "a caustic history of American psychiatry's treatment of schizophrenia," commented Daniel J. Luchins in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. "In his quietly intense history of the discipline's ever-shifting etiologies and cures, Whitaker sets out to show that psychiatric treatments cause more harm than good and that they are imposed, either through force or through subterfuge, on people who we have decided don't deserve or need respect," stated Brian Doherty in Reason.

Popular past treatments for schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness included procedures that today seem little removed from torture. These include the extraction of teeth and the removal of other body parts that were considered breeding grounds for disease; induced insulin coma; sudden dunking in freezing cold water; electroconvulsive therapy; and frontal lobotomies that sometimes literally involved jamming ice picks through a patient's eye sockets to reach, and destroy, the brain's frontal lobes.

Whitaker argues that the current vogue of treatment with various types of medications is not far removed from the barbarism of the past since these drugs "induce pathological conditions by causing irreversible brain damage," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic. Whitaker claims that "psychiatric medications, like all others, are tainted by the corporate greed that is behind their development and marketing," observed Andrea Freud-Loewenstein in the American Journal of Psychotherapy. Whitaker presents considerable evidence to support this assertion, and an Atlantic Monthly reviewer observed that the book "is most damning in the evidence it gathers of the collusion between pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers—an unholy relationship if ever there was one." Mad in America is a "passionate, compellingly researched polemic, as fascinating as it is ultimately horrifying," stated Ben Ehrenreich in Mother Jones.

Whitaker turns to a story of the quest for scientific knowledge—and the search for lost love—with The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon. The book recounts two distinct stories. One is the story of a 1735 French expedition that traveled to South America to map with precision a single degree of latitude at the equator. The purpose was to determine the answer to the theoretical argument of whether the earth bulged in the middle or was cinched, as if wearing a tight belt. After an arduous several months, the expedition answered its question (the earth bulged); but also produced the earliest known maps of the northern areas of the continent; brought the metal that the South Americans called platinum back to Europe; and learned the uses of the pliable substance the natives called caoutchouc—known more commonly as rubber.

The second story is that of Peruvian Isabel Grameson, married to expedition geographer Jean Godin and separated from him for twenty years by the political repercussions of the Seven Years' War. In 1749 Godin searched for a river-borne route that would allow him and the pregnant Isabel to leave Peru and return to France. He set out to ascertain if travel along a series of Amazonian river tributaries was possible, with the intention of returning for his wife and child. When he reached French Guiana, the political volatility of the area prevented him from returning to Peru. He remained there for twenty years, as Isabel did in Peru; he constantly searched for ways to return to his wife, and she raised their daughter, Carmen, who died of smallpox in 1768. Godin never had the chance to meet her.

In 1769 Isabel heard some rumors about Godin's location, and set out in an expedition of forty-one people, including her two brothers and a nephew, to find her husband. Isabel started her trip in opulence, carried in a sedan chair and wearing her finest clothing, but the brutal reality of the Amazon soon devastated the expedition; four months after setting out, a ragged and injured Isabel—already presumed dead—emerged from the jungle, the sole survivor, still seeking—and finding—a reunion with Godin. "She had been kept alive, she insisted, by the vision of her husband urging her onward," remarked a reviewer in the Economist.

Booklist reviewer Bryce Christensen called The Mapmaker's Wife "a rare story, taut with intellectual controversy, romantic passion, and harrowing danger." A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, "Isabel and Jean's adventures are riveting enough on their own, and colonial South America's largely unfamiliar history adds another compelling layer to this well-crafted yarn." Although New York Times Book Review critic Andrea Barrett wondered which facet of the story—the expedition, Jean's years alone, or Isabel's ill-fated journey—is the primary one, she concluded that "each element of The Mapmaker's Wife, offers its own distinctive pleasures."



Albany Times Union, March 3, 2002, Paul Grondahl, "Poor Treatment for People with Schizophrenia."

American Journal of Psychotherapy, Volume 58, number 1, 2004, Andrea Freud-Loewenstein, "In Search of Madness," p. 116.

American Scientist, November-December, 2002, Arthur Kleinman, "Psychiatry on the Couth," p. 569.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 9, 2004, Robin Michaelson, "An Exotic Expedition Wedded to a Love Story," section L, p. 7.

Atlantic Monthly, March, 2002, review of Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, p. 120.

Booklist, December 15, 2001, Ray Olson, review of Mad in America, p. 692; January 1, 2003, review of Mad in America, p. 791; April 14, 2004, Bryce Christensen, review of The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon, p. 1421.

Boston Globe, March 10, 2002, Barbara Pattison, interview with Robert Whitaker, p. 4.

Economist, May 15, 2004, "Enduring Love: Exploration in South America," p. 81.

Entertainment Weekly, April 16, 2004, Nancy Miller, review of The Mapmaker's Wife, p. 81.

Ideas on Liberty, May, 2003, Sheldon Richman, review of Mad in America, p. 57.

Isis, June, 2003, Hans Pols, review of Mad in America, p. 352.

JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, June 19, 2002, Daniel J. Luchins, review of Mad in America, p. 3149.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2001, review of Mad in America, p. 1604; February 1, 2004, review of The Mapmaker's Wife, p. 125.

Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Robert C. Jones, review of The Mapmaker's Wife, p. 127.

Mother Jones, January-February, 2002, Ben Ehrenreich, review of Mad in America, p. 73.

New York Times Book Review, May 23, 2004, Andrea Barrett, "A Fat Earth Society," p. 16.

Psychology Today, July-August, 2002, Paul Chance, review of Mad in America, p. 72.

Publishers Weekly, January 7, 2002, review of Mad in America, p. 54; March 15, 2004, review of The Mapmaker's Wife, p. 63.

Reason, May, 2002, Brian Doherty, "Ill-Treated: The Continuing History of Psychiatric Abuses," p. 55.


Alliance for Human Research Protection Web site,http://www.ahrp.org/ (August 30, 2004), profile of Robert Whitaker.

Bookbrowse.com,http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (August 30, 2004), brief profile of Robert Whitaker.

Freedom Center,http://www.freedomcenter.org/ (August 30, 2004), brief profile of Robert Whitaker.

Robert Whitaker Home Page,http://www.madinamerica.com (September 14, 2004).*

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