This intriguing book turns some age-old questions about the human condition upside down... [Nesse] offers a series of insights, both scientific and anecdotal, that begins to show why the vulnerabilities in our psyche are fundamental to the survival of our genes... His book, a mixture of such research and well-caveated speculation, addresses the thornier questions of psychiatry with a pragmatic curiosity. He makes a strong case that the current obsessions with population genetics and neuroscience are unlikely to unlock answers to the most complex problems.
Nesse is open about when he is speculating, and when he has supporting evidence. But the problem with his approach is that the evolutionary explanation always seems to trump any other kind — and his speculations can feel like simplifications... Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is perhaps oversold. It does not feel like “a fundamentally new perspective”, but it does feel like a useful contribution... For all its origins in evolutionary theory, and all its claims of novelty, Nesse’s approach ends up sounding benign and rather practical.
Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is an excellent and timely account of the history, development and implications of evolutionary psychiatry. Although psychiatry has many problems, with a little help from Darwin its future could be very promising indeed. Evolutionary psychiatry has the potential to refine research agendas, resolve controversies, deepen our understanding of mental illness and (dare we hope) inspire new and more effective treatments.
...there is a consequent circularity about Nesse’s arguments, because you can fill in any gap with a plausible hypothesis... Finally, despite the breezy, enjoyable tone of the book, its often fascinating content and the obviously deep knowledge of the author, he didn’t convince me by the end that it was so useful knowing (or thinking you know) what the evolutionary origins of mental illnesses were... Nonetheless, I suppose that Nesse lending a good and possibly comforting yarn for psychiatrists to spin for their distressed patients might still be better than some of the other options available for their treatment.