Madness: A Brief History

Front Cover
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 humours," as the "divine fury" of creative genius, as sanity itself in a world gone mad, or as the malfunctioning of brain chemistry, Porter shows the many ways madness has been perceived and misperceived in every historical period. He also 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, the anti-restraint movement, 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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User Review  - gottfried_leibniz - LibraryThing

A great introduction to the history of Mental Illness. He starts from the earliest time of mental illness and to our modern day. Roy does a good job of delineating each era. I learnt a lot of stories ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - gottfried_leibniz - LibraryThing

A great introduction to the history of Mental Illness. He starts from the earliest time of mental illness and to our modern day. Roy does a good job of delineating each era. I learnt a lot of stories ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
Gods and demons
10
Madness rationalized
34
Copyright

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About the author (2002)

The most highly-acclaimed and prolific medical historian of this generation. Roy Porter is 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 has 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 is Professor of the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Trust Centre forthe History of Medicine at University College London; and has extensive experience of popular public lecturing, broadcasting, and serious journalism.

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