Walter Brown: Lithium : A Doctor, A Drug, and a Breakthrough


Gordon Johnson’s comments


       While the central theme of the book concerns the life and times of John Cade, the discovery of lithium and the clinical impact on psychiatry the story is inter woven with the author’s journey in the field of psychiatry. As the book is written for the lay reader with a need to understand concepts and practices in psychiatry over time, he has taken a personal approach to the story. While doing so he does not sacrifice academic stringency such as the importance of clinical trial design in assessing the efficacy and safety of a drug, statistical concepts relevant to the history of lithium. The role of placebo or other comparator in randomised controlled clinical trials is outlined in lithium studies.

       The book explores the widespread lithium "poisoning" when prescribed as a salt substitute in the US. The impact this had on the acceptance of lithium as a treatment for mania is well known but the research on lithium intoxication and the link to plasma lithium levels by Alcott is not. Brown draws a comparison to the similarities of the findings by Edward Trautner in lithium treated patients leading to the safe use of lithium.

       Brown’s knowledge, including both the history of lithium and those who made it happen, is evident throughout the book. His ability as a teacher is also evident, a combination of skills which makes the book a success.


April 1, 2021