CreateSpace, $15.49, 200 pages
On October 29, 1967, a bizarre epidemic began in Singapore, an epidemic that would last over a week and would affect hundreds of individuals—mostly men of Chinese ancestry. This epidemic is known as koro and it is the fear that one’s penis is slowly receding into the abdomen and will eventually disappear completely, causing death. Most people, outside of the medical and mental health communities, are probably not terribly familiar with koro, which, in spite of sporadic outbreaks throughout the world, seems to mostly affect Chinese males (and occasionally females), and many have probably not heard of Singapore’s Penis Panic of 1967. However, if Dr. Scott D. Mendelson has his way, that will change shortly, as his book //The Great Singapore Penis Panic// traces the history of the koro outbreak, from its probable psychological and cultural roots to its ultimate resolution, and offers much insight into not only this particular epidemic, but into the nature of epidemics, of the toll politics and economics and society can play on the psyche, and the cultural foundations that help to engender and “normalize” different types of delusion, mental illness, etc. ||//The Great Singapore Penis Panic// is written with patience and compassion and is never judgmental about the unfortunate people who were driven to hysteria by a fear of losing their penises—and, ultimately, lives. Whether or not the book will make this sort of relatively culture-specific occurrence more understandable to Western audiences or not, it is an interesting and informative look into the psyche of another culture as it relates to mental (and physical) health, and provides the sort of illumination that is necessary if people are to be understanding and empathetic towards others. We’re ultimately the same, but culture and tradition impact our behaviors and beliefs, our paranoias and psychoses, and Singapore’s Penis Panic is a perfect example of this.