Review: The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam


Title: The Man Who Couldn’t Stop

Author: David Adam

Published: Pan Macmillan April 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from April 11 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Dr David Adam was a specialist correspondent on the Guardian for seven years, writing on science, medicine and the environment and is now a writer and editor at Nature, the world’s top scientific journal. David also has OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

While most people associate OCD with excessive hand washing or counting behaviours, Adam’s OCD manifests itself with obsessive thoughts about the possibility of incidental blood transfer which could lead to him contracting, or passing on AIDS (despite not being infected). It began when he was eighteen after a throwaway comment by a friend and quickly developed into a crippling obsession which resulted in him studying doorknobs and AstroTurf for traces of blood, despite his understanding the minuscule risk of AIDS being transferred in this manner. Though temporarily eased by checking behaviours including daily calls to the AIDS hotline, wiping cups and bottles and applying multiple plasters to any scrape or cut, the thoughts and behaviours threaten to overwhelm him almost every minute of every day.

Adam’s primary motivation for writing The Man Who Couldn’t Stop stems from his desire to confront the condition that has been his constant companion for 20 years. In a manner accessible to a layperson, David shares what little is understood about the disorder, which has no definitive cause, and no cure.

From Freud’s theories (predictably the psychiatrist blamed the illness on masturbatory guilt) to the latest information gleaned from MRI’s of the basal ganglia, Adam explores the evolution of the disorder that has been treated variously, but rarely conclusively, by immersive therapy, lobotomy, electric shock and psychotropic drugs.

OCD, Adam insists, is not just a ‘quirk’ but a serious illness with the potential to cause mental and physical harm. A young Ethiopian schoolgirl, Bira, developed an obsession with mud that saw her eat eight square metres of a mud brick wall that supported her house, a Brazillian man named Marcus was obsessed with the shape of his eye sockets and his prodding resulted in blindness. Sufferers can spend upwards of six hours a day catering to their obsessive compulsions, alienating family and friends, destroying careers and ruining lives.

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is a fascinating study of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with a narrative that combines David Adam’s personal story with science and history. It took ten years for David to seek treatment and cognitive behavioural therapy, and a daily dose of antidepressants, now allows him some control over his intrusive thoughts, but there is, at present, no cure.

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is available to purchase from

Pan Macmillan I boomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AU I Amazon US

via Booko


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