Touched by Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament: A Book Review

The definitive work on the profound and surprising links between manic-depression and creativity, from the bestselling psychologist of bipolar disorders who wrote An Unquiet Mind.

One of the foremost psychologists in America, “Kay Jamison is plainly among the few who have a profound understanding of the relationship that exists between art and madness” (William Styron).

The anguished and volatile intensity associated with the artistic temperament was once thought to be a symptom of genius or eccentricity peculiar to artists, writers, and musicians. Her work, based on her study as a clinical psychologist and researcher in mood disorders, reveals that many artists subject to exalted highs and despairing lows were in fact engaged in a struggle with clinically identifiable manic-depressive illness.


I took forever to read this book, not because it wasn’t interesting, but because it was dense, that being said it was wonderful. It was very informative and it touched on all the topics it should have. I could write posts on posts about each topic covered and I can’t promise that I won’t touch on a least a few in the following months, but this book did a fantastic job relating creativity to bipolar disorder.

It did so without glorifying the disease and without vilifying it. It covered it gracefully in great detail, and even in it’s nastiest details it didn’t make me ashamed of my disorder. It covered all the names of past famous artists and writers who shared this disorder with me. It told me their stories, along with all the studies and statistics done to prove that creativity can come with it.

This book is thick. Some parts read like medical stories, others like essays, others like biographies. But this book opened my eyes even farther to something I always suspected was true but never had anything to prove it. It gave me hard facts. Creativity is linked to bipolar, though it is not universally shared among bipolar patients. It discussed how medication does or does not effect it. It discussed how this disease move genetically and how we often see it in families with creative dynasties.

This book was recommended to me by my mother and I understand why, because I give it five out of five stars. 

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