Society’s understanding of what constitutes madness has shifted and morphed throughout history, but the concept itself has been a constant in civilization. Humans often look for the abnormal and inexplicable in one another’s psychology, but our ability to diagnose, treat, and empathize with those suffering from madness has been far less consistent. In Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine, Andrew Scull *74, a historian of psychiatry, examines madness’ various manifestations and treatments by drawing on medical records, scientific advances, and cultural expressions of madness.
Scull uses more than a hundred paintings, engravings, and sculptures to illustrate the manifestations of insanity. His narrative ranges from explaining Shakespeare’s use of madness for dramatic purposes — “Love is merely a madness and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do” (As You Like It) — to introducing readers to psychiatrists such as Walter Freeman, who “made no secret of his willingness to lobotomize patients who resisted psychosurgery — because they were mad, their preferences could be disregarded,” Scull writes. He also explores the work of Silas Weir Mitchell, a wealthy psychiatrist whose famous “resting cure” was forced upon the likes of Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, inspiring Gilman’s famous short story The Yellow Wallpaper.
Kirkus calls the book a “far-ranging, illuminating study of minds gone awry across space and time.” The Wall Street Journalconcludes, “Mr. Scull’s tone is elegant; his scholarship, immaculate. The story he tells is riveting.” Scull is a professor of sociology and science studies at the University of California, San Diego. He has written more than a dozen books on the history of psychiatry and mental disorders.