Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital (Google eBook)

Front Cover
PublicAffairs, 2009 - History - 297 pages
27 Reviews
Its landscaped ground, chosen by Frederick Law Olmsted and dotted with Tudor mansions, could belong to a New England prep school. There are no fences, no guards, no locked gates. But McLean Hospital is a mental institution-one of the most famous, most elite, and once most luxurious in America. McLean "alumni" include Olmsted himself, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, James Taylor and Ray Charles, as well as (more secretly) other notables from among the rich and famous. In its "golden age," McLean provided as genteel an environment for the treatment of mental illness as one could imagine. But the golden age is over, and a downsized, downscale McLean-despite its affiliation with Harvard University-is struggling to stay afloat. Gracefully Insane, by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, is a fascinating and emotional biography of McLean Hospital from its founding in 1817 through today. It is filled with stories about patients and doctors: the Ralph Waldo Emerson protégé whose brilliance disappeared along with his madness; Anne Sexton's poetry seminar, and many more. The story of McLean is also the story of the hopes and failures of psychology and psychotherapy; of the evolution of attitudes about mental illness, of approaches to treatment, and of the economic pressures that are making McLean-and other institutions like it-relics of a bygone age.

This is a compelling and often oddly poignant reading for fans of books like Plath's The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted (both inspired by their author's stays at McLean) and for anyone interested in the history of medicine or psychotherapy, or the social history of New England.
  

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - limamikealpha - LibraryThing

Fascinating history not only of McLean Hospital but of psychiatry over the years. Lots of famous people made their way through McLean's doors. Very well-written. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - steadfastreader - LibraryThing

Tedious. This book would be better described as the history of an elite mental health institution, the likes of which most of us will never see. Indeed, at the end the only remnant left of 'the old ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

A Visit to the Museum of the Cures
2
By the Best People for the Best People
18
The Mayflower Screwballs
36
The Country Clubbers
50
The Search for the Cure
74
The Talk Cure Freud and Man at Mclean
94
Welcome to the Twentieth Century
118
The Mad Poets Society
146
Staying On The Elders from Planet Upham
168
Diagnosis Hippiephrenia
192
Physician Heal Thyself
218
Life Goes On
234
Acknowledgments
246
Notes on Sources
250
Index
258
Copyright

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Page 11 - This consists in removing patients from their residence to some proper asylum; and for this purpose a calm retreat in the country is to be preferred: for it is found that continuance at home aggravates the disease, as the improper association of ideas cannot be destroyed. A system of humane vigilance is adopted. Coercion by blows, stripes, and chains, although sanctioned by the authority of Celsus and Cullen, is now justly laid aside.
Page 11 - It was at once seen that feminine instinct had solved the question, and the name was adopted, to convey the idea of what such an institution should be, namely, a place in which the unhappy might obtain a refuge ; a quiet haven in which the shattered bark might find the means of reparation or of safety.
Page 19 - ... upon to support one of its members in this situation. Even those who can pay the necessary expenses would perhaps find an institution, such as is proposed, the best situation in which they could place their unfortunate friends. It is worthy of the opulent men of this town, and consistent with their general character, to provide an asylum for the insane from every part of the Commonwealth.

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About the author (2009)

Alex Beam is a columnist for the Boston Globe and the author of two novels. He has also written for the Atlantic Monthly, Slate and Forbes/FYI. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife and three sons.

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