This is both a personal and a historical overview of anxiety, a mental illness that far too many Americans share. In the first decade of this century, the numbers grew to 16.2 million—in fact more Americans see a doctor for anxiety than for back pain and migraine combined. Stossel, who suffers terribly from panic attacks, fear of flying, a nervous stomach, and severe social anxiety, has been remarkably successful as both an author and the editor of The Atlantic.
My favorite section is the opening one titled “The Riddle of Anxiety.” Here he compares how philosophical and psychological greats described the disease. Plato believed that anxiety and other mental problems arose “not from physiological imbalances but from disharmony of the soul.” Hippocrates believed that “body juices” caused madness. He said, “You will find the brain humid, full of sweat and smelling badly.” This description came very close to the author at his wedding, except that it was his body that sweated profusely. He had such a panic attack at the altar that his best man was afraid he would faint.