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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

The roots of our obsession

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 03 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b882
  1. Iain McClure, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Murray Royal Hospital, Perth, Perth and Kinross
  1. imcclure{at}

    A new book traces the evolution of obsessive behaviour from social fact to medical phenomenon, Iain McClure finds

    We have existed in our current evolutionary form for at least 100 000 years, and it’s fascinating to consider to what extent, during this time, our ancestors thought the same kinds of thoughts as those we think today. For example, have we always had obsessive thoughts, and if not why not?

    Lennard J Davis, professor of medical education at the University of Illinois, enters this complex territory in his latest book with admirable vision. He explores the history of obsessional thought as far back as sources allow (less than 2000 years). He then expands the history into a debate about how such knowledge should be used in the current medical understanding of obsession. In so doing he throws up many fascinating insights and ideas about where medicine might now be going wrong in its identification of an ever increasing number of “lifestyle” disorders.

    Before beginning this story it is helpful to clarify what obsession means. In psychiatry an obsession is defined as a thought that …

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