Unwell: What Makes A Disease A Disease?

In a world where illness seems to be everywhere, where does failing biology stop and personal responsibility begin?

Nostalgia used to be a killer nervous condition. Emotional women were once treated with a good orgasm, left handed folk were beaten to be turned ‘right’, and rotten teeth pulled to cure the mentally unwell.

Just who made these diseases ‘diseases’ anyway? And what makes us think we understand any better today?

Unwell is a fascinating and insightful exploration of the ever-changing nature of illness. Using humour, historical anecdotes, scientific research and personal stories, McRae illuminates the power of disease and medical diagnoses to define who we are and how we live.

 In a time when extreme violence is blamed on poor mental health, when people suffer for want of health insurance, and research dollars depend on sharp marketing campaigns, understanding the social and cultural nature of disease is vital for our wellbeing – and the wellbeing of our community.


“Unwell is a thoughtful, knowledgeable, funny and personalised account of a complex and important subject. “

Sydney Morning Herald

“McRae’s research into the history of how diseases have been defined and the medical interventions used is intriguing. “

Out in Perth


‘Mike McRae’s Unwell is searingly personal, illuminating and a tribute, in many ways, to his muse Oliver Sacks.’

Robyn Williams, presenter of ABC’s The Science Show

‘Unwell explores the weird and wonderful, sensational and sexual, physical and mental, historic and contemporary, and also the quite ordinary – all with wit, humour and a decent dose of rational science. I learnt a lot and laughed out loud while doing so.’

Dr Lynne Kelly, author of The Memory Code

‘Mike McRae’s enthusiastic assault on the concept of disease is ambitious, informed, thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable. He explores, with skill and heart, the landscape of human health and what happens on its borderlines.’

Idan Ben-Barak, author of Small Wonders