Professor, Brown Medical School, & Author
Peter D. Kramer is an American psychiatrist, Marshall Scholar, and faculty member of Brown Medical School specializing in the area of clinical depression. He was born in New York City to Jewish Holocaust survivors. He considers depression to be a serious illness with tangible physiological effects such as disorganizing the brain and disrupting the functioning of the cardiovascular system. In his work he has criticized society for romanticizing depression in the same way that tuberculosis was once romanticized; these romantic notions involve claims of artistic sensitivity or of genius arising from depression. In his 2005 book Against Depression, he argues that the socio-economic costs of depression are so large and the effects so pervasive that modern societies should aim to eradicate the disease in the same fashion as it did with smallpox.
Kramer’s most notable book is Listening to Prozac (1994). This work was grounded in the observation that, treated with antidepressants, some patients reported feeling “better than well.” This result led Kramer to consider the feasibility of “cosmetic psychopharmacology,” the use of medication in healthy people to induce personality traits that are desired or socially rewarded. In the book, Kramer considers the consequences for medical ethics and critiques the tendency of the culture to reward particular personality styles, namely those characterized by energy and assertiveness.
From 2005 through 2006, Kramer served as principal host of the public radio program The Infinite Mind. He has frequently reviewed books (in Slate, Washington Post, New York Times Book Review) and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.