Harper Collins, £7.99stg
Did you know that 40 per cent of Western populations live with phobias but only a tiny proportion ever seek a professional help? Or that the National Phobics Society has a list of over 250 phobias? No, I didn’t think so.
'Phobias: Fighting The Fear' by science journalist Helen Saul claims to be the first book "to assess all the theories and to seek to answer all the questions". While I am unable to dispute the first part of this claim, the second part seems outlandishly optimistic at best. Saul, despite her best efforts, fails to convince the reader of the imminent possibility of curing phobias.
The main focus of 'Phobias' is an investigation into the various schools of scientific thought pertaining to the cause of irrational fear: evolution, genetics, behaviour, cognition, personality, gender, etc. Herein lies the author’s dilemma. In order to produce a comprehensive work she has to present the latest developments in the various fields of study. Yet it is this very deluge of scientific research that leaves the reader's attention seriously sapped.
With a little balance, 'Phobias' could and should have been an interesting exploration of a widespread problem. Instead, it emerges as a taxing, difficult read. Saul's first mistake is that she assumes that the reader will know when normal fear stops, and irrational phobia begins. I certainly don't. She also assumes that her regular little anecdotes about phobics (predominantly agoraphobics) offset the prolix chapters on the latest studies. Again, she is mistaken.
Ultimately, this book fails emphatically in its attempt to formulate a tangible solution. Logic indicates that like many other so-called 'breakthroughs', it throws up far more possibilities than certainties.