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By Peter F Liddle (Pp 320, £40.00). Published by Gaskell, London, 2001. ISBN 1-901242-65-X
The premise of this book is that the key to understanding the neural basis of the major mental disorders is an understanding of the origin of five symptom clusters or dimensions common to these disorders. These are reality distortion (hallucinations and delusions); disorganisation (of thought and behaviour); psychomotor poverty and excitation; depression and elation; and anxiety. Thus, there are five chapters each devoted to a description of a specific dimension and an exposition of how it is correlated with cognitive abnormalities derived from the dysfunction of specific neural processes.
These central chapters are preceded by five chapters describing the neuroscience of brain systems thought to be involved in generating the various symptom clusters. These are brief and the literature reviews are in no way comprehensive. Nevertheless, they serve the purpose of informing the reader of the basic neuroanatomical and neurophysiological concepts that underpin Professor Liddle's approach to understanding mental illness.
The final four chapters summarise the current evidence regarding the neurobiology of schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and psychopathy. Each ends with a synthesis that integrates this with the previous account of how the symptom clusters arise.
The explanatory power of Professor Liddle's thesis concerning the neural basis of mental symptoms is stronger for some symptom dimensions, such as reality distortion, than others, such as distortion. But it is the general unifying approach that is the major strength of this book—the detail will certainly be honed over the next decade. Another strength is that this is a self contained book! It assumes no neuroscientific or medical knowledge other than the most basic. There are many excellent colour illustrations. Therefore, this book can be highly recommended to anybody interested in the disordered mind and brain.