Virtual Event: Carl Erik Fisher
Our History of Addiction
in conversation with LESLIE JAMISON
January 21, 2022
7:00 PM ET
Join our online event (or pre-register) via the link in the event description.
Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration
Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes celebrated addiction physician and bioethicist CARL ERIK FISHER for a discussion of his book The Urge: Our History of Addiction. He will be joined in conversation by LESLIE JAMISON, acclaimed author of The Empathy Exams and The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath.
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While payment is not required, we are suggesting a $5 contribution to support this author series, our staff, and the future of Harvard Book Store—a locally owned, independently run Cambridge institution. In addition, by purchasing a copy of The Urge on harvard.com, you support indie bookselling and the writing community during this difficult time.
About The Urge
Even after a decades-long opioid overdose crisis, intense controversy still rages over the fundamental nature of addiction and the best way to treat it. With uncommon empathy and erudition, Carl Erik Fisher draws on his own experience as a clinician, researcher, and alcoholic in recovery as he traces the history of a phenomenon that, centuries on, we hardly appear closer to understanding—let alone addressing effectively.
As a psychiatrist-in-training fresh from medical school, Fisher was soon face-to-face with his own addiction crisis, one that nearly cost him everything. Desperate to make sense of the condition that had plagued his family for generations, he turned to the history of addiction, learning that the current quagmire is only the latest iteration of a centuries-old story: humans have struggled to define, treat, and control addictive behavior for most of recorded history, including well before the advent of modern science and medicine.
A rich, sweeping account that probes not only medicine and science but also literature, religion, philosophy, and public policy, The Urge illuminates the extent to which the story of addiction has persistently reflected broader questions of what it means to be human and care for one another. Fisher introduces us to the people who have endeavored to address this complex condition through the ages: physicians and politicians, activists and artists, researchers and writers, and of course the legions of people who have struggled with their own addictions. He also examines the treatments and strategies that have produced hope and relief for many people with addiction, himself included. Only by reckoning with our history of addiction, he argues—our successes and our failures—can we light the way forward for those whose lives remain threatened by its hold.
The Urge is at once an eye-opening history of ideas, a riveting personal story of addiction and recovery, and a clinician’s urgent call for a more expansive, nuanced, and compassionate view of one of society’s most intractable challenges.
Praise for The Urge
“This courageous, urgent book tells the story of addiction, narrating its history, the author's own mêlées with alcohol and stimulants, and the narrative of other people’s struggles, which he has grappled with as a clinician. In poignant, episodic accounts, he describes historical conflicts that remain alive today, when we view addiction sometimes as a social circumstance, sometimes as a biological disease, and sometimes as a personal failure. Fisher has undertaken the difficult but necessary job of reconciling these multiple points of view.” —Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon
“Carl Erik Fisher’s The Urge is the best-written and most incisive book I’ve read on the history of addiction. In the midst of an overdose crisis that grows worse by the hour and has vexed America for centuries, Fisher has given us the best prescription of all: understanding. He seamlessly blends a gripping historical narrative with memoir that doesn’t self-aggrandize; the result is a full-throated argument against blaming people with substance use disorder. The Urge is a propulsive tour de force that is as healing as it is enjoyable to read.” —Beth Macy, author of Dopesick
“The Urge is an insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully written book that stands to revolutionize our understanding of one of medicine’s—and society’s—most challenging problems. Carl Erik Fisher is a masterful physician-writer who is equally attentive to the grand sweep of history and the subtleties of each individual’s experience of addiction. A remarkable achievement.” —Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies
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