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Essential Psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific Basis and Practical Applications

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    Essential Psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific Basis and Practical Applications. By stephen m stahl (Pp 601, £39.95). Published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000. ISBN0-521-64615-4.

    Psychiatry is a strange clinical subject. It has by far the smallest knowledge base of any of the major subspecialties yet the arguments over what should enter curricula and what should be in our postgraduate examinationss are as fierce as in any other Royal College. There are major requirements—for example, to understand psychotherapy and psychological treatments. Yet as a treatment tool they still play a subordinate role to biological treatments in most settings for the management of the severely mentally ill. By contrast, time and time again surveys of trainee's needs persistently cry out for good information on psychopharmacology. In addition any teaching courses in psychopharmacology are always voraciously snapped up. Our own flawed Maudsley prescribing guidelines, which started life as a simple internal document, is thirstily sought after.Essential Psychopharmacology is the book I always wanted to write but have been soundly beaten to it by Stahl. The first edition was a finely crafted book with logically distinct sections on basic science, disease mechanisms, drug action, and drug classes. This third edition is now much improved again with copious colour illustrations and bang up to date scientific information about both aetiological theories and new products and their associated modes of action. As the introduction states much has changed since the publication of the first edition 4 years ago. In one sense this is a slight pitfall of the book. The second edition has been prepared in the middle of a major research boom in psychopharmacology and in its attempt to be up to date it is in danger of becoming rapidly out of date. A text book format with a fair publication lag may not be the best vehicle for an attempt to cover absolutely up to date information. Nevertheless, I think the book is near perfect as a textbook of basic pharmacology. If I were to try and improve it further, I wonder whether the author and publisher might think again about the illustrations. It is superbly illustrated but sometimes the cartoon imagery is so metaphorical that it serves occasionally to be cumbersome and lacking clarity occasionally obscuring rather than clarifying the issue.

    The book strangely lacks an international feel. There is a lot of Americanese (drug combos) and the contents are largely based around around a United States formulary with some unfamiliar drugs as well as missing some familiar European entities. All in all though a benchmark book for modern psychopharmacology teaching.