Madness: A Brief History

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 2002 - Medical - 241 pages
13 Reviews
Looking back on his confinement to Bethlem, Restoration playwright Nathaniel Lee declared: "They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me." As Roy Porter shows in Madness: A Brief History, thinking about who qualifies as insane, what causes mental illness, and how such illness should be treated has varied wildly throughout recorded history, sometimes veering dangerously close to the arbitrariness Lee describes and often encompassing cures considerably worse than the illness itself.
Drawing upon eyewitness accounts of doctors, writers, artists, and the mad themselves, Roy Porter tells the story of our changing notions of insanity and of the treatments for mental illness that have been employed from antiquity to the present day. Beginning with 5,000-year-old skulls with tiny holes bored in them (to allow demons to escape), through conceptions of madness as an acute phase in the trial of souls, as an imbalance of "the humors," as the "divine fury" of creative genius, or as the malfunctioning of brain chemistry, Porter shows the many ways madness has been perceived and misperceived in every historical period. He takes us on a fascinating round of treatments, ranging from exorcism and therapeutic terror--including immersion in a tub of eels--to the first asylums, shock therapy, the birth of psychoanalysis, and the current use of psychotropic drugs.
Throughout, Madness: A Brief History offers a balanced view, showing both the humane attempts to help the insane as well as the ridiculous and often cruel misunderstanding that have bedeviled our efforts to heal the mind of its myriad afflictions.

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Review: Madness: A Brief History

User Review  - Jonjane Doe - Goodreads

When Van Gogh painted himself, who can say whether he was painting madness?—all that is clear is that he was painting misery. I enjoyed the book; it's an accessible whizz through perceptions and ... Read full review

Review: Madness: A Brief History

User Review  - Rebecca - Goodreads

I liked it. I really did. It is brief, concise, not too academic, the language is simple and easy going, while at the same time he goes over all the important names, developments, and milestones of ... Read full review

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About the author (2002)

The most highly-acclaimed and prolific medical historian of this generation. Roy Porter was a well-known and widely respected author of over 80 books, the most recent being the much reviewed Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (Penguin, 2000). He published extensively in the history of psychiatry, including A Social History of Madness (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987; Paperback edition, 1989); The Faber Book of Madness (Faber, 1991; paperback 1993). He was Professor of the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London; and had extensive experience of popular public lecturing, broadcasting, and serious journalism.

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