The Evil Hours: A Biography Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, by David J. Morris
A few diseases have served as the subject of extensive biographies. Cancer has spawned the book The Emperor Of Maladies. Depression was the subject of the melancholy book The Noonday Demon, part of my Florida library, Since PTSD has a very short history within psychology but a longer one in terms of its ancestry in military history and literature, the author (who himself suffers from PTSD as a result of a near-death experience as an embedded war journalist in Iraq) has chosen wisely in writing about this most curious of diseases. The book is a mysterious one, though, given that it might not be immediately clear what is meant by the evil hours to someone who does not suffer from PTSD. The Evil Hours can refer to the darkness that survivors with PTSD struggle to deal with, the way that the disease eats away time leaving behind many people with lost years that they wish they could recover, and eats away at the sense of time many people have as well. And when one says many people, there are estimates that as many as ten percent of the United States suffers from PTSD, so there is a great deal of company for those who do.
In terms of the contents and structure of the book, this book is organized in nine chapters, after a prologue and introduction that show the writer to not only be a student of PTSD but also someone familiar with it deeply and personally. The first three chapters of the book deal with different aspects of how the disease begins: Saydia, which is where the author himself had a near death experience thanks to Iraqi terrorism, In Terror’s Shadow, which looks at the role of terror in making natural disasters, war, and rape the chief origins of PTSD, and Toward a Genealogy of Trauma, which looks at the literature of the Greeks and Mesopotamians, although its strangely neglects the observation of PTSD that can be found in scripture. The Haunted Mind addresses the sorts of difficulties faced, including insomnia, anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, and so on, that are faced by the mind which is dealing with PTSD, and then the author takes a look at modern trauma, including the recognition of the pivotal role of violence and terror against women and the general divorce between civil society and military matters as being pivotal in the growth of recognition for trauma. The next three books then deal in a detailed fashion with therapy, drugs, and alternative treatments (like yoga) for PTSD, which prompts a comparison to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and a fierce criticism of the clinical bean counting of the VA, before closing with a chapter on the paradoxical reality that PTSD in at least some sufferers has led to growth and insight, even despite everything. At about 275 pages before its lengthy and literate endnotes, this is a book that provides a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.
There is a great deal to like about this book, although it is unlikely that anyone would read this book unless they suffer from PTSD themselves or are close with people who do. The author manages to talk about his own experiences in a way that is not overwhelming, commenting thoughtfully on the need for someone who struggles with PTSD to get help somewhere–whether through deep reading , self-examination, therapy, medicine, various alternatives (including MMA), and it is clear that he is empathetic about the struggle against darkness faced by many, and the difficulties that result in life and relationships when people have experiences that simply cannot be assimilated in the social context around them. If this book is too long on Greek thought to the exclusion of biblical truth, is far too approving of New Age and even shamanistic spirituality, and is entirely too approving of the near total absence of literature on male survivors of rape, this is to be expected, if lamented. This is not a perfect book, but nevertheless it offers a great deal of understanding in the lengthy and tangled origins of PTSD, and why it sprang nearly fully armed like Athena from the head of Zeus in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s among the fallout of Vietnam and drastic social change. It is a worthy read, even with its flaws.
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