Cover image for Madness : a brief history
Madness : a brief history
Porter, Roy, 1946-2002.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xii, 241 pages : illustrations ; 18 cm
Format :


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RC438 .P67 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
RC438 .P67 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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This fascinating story of madness reveals the radically different perceptions of madness and approaches to its treatment, from antiquity to the present day.Roy Porter explores what we really mean by 'madness', covering an enormous range of topics from witches to creative geniuses, electric shock therapy to sexual deviancy, and psychoanalysis to prozac.The origins of current debates about how we define and deal with insanity are examined through eyewitness accounts of those treating patients, writers, artists, and the mad themselves.

Author Notes

Roy Sydney Porter was born December 31, 1946. He grew up in a south London working class home. He attended Wilson's Grammar School, Camberwell, and won an unheard of scholarship to Cambridge.

His starred double first in history at Cambridge University (1968) led to a junior research fellowship at his college, Christ's, followed by a teaching post at Churchill College, Cambridge. His Ph.D. thesis, published as The Making Of Geology (1977), became the first of more than 100 books that he wrote or edited.

Porter was a Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Churchill College, Cambridge from 1972 to 1979; Dean from 1977 to 1979; Assistant Lecturer in European History at Cambridge University from 1974 to 1977, Lecturer from 1977 to 1979. He joined the Wellcome Institute fot the History of Medicine in 1979 where he was a Senior Lecturer from 1979 to 1991, a Reader from 1991 to 1993, and finally a Professor in the Social History of Medicine from 1993 to 2001.

Porter was Elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1994, and he was also made an honorary fellow by both the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Roy Porter died March 4, 2002, at the age of 55.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Medical historian Porter authoritatively traces how Western culture has explained and treated insanity. Holes bored in 7,000-year-old skulls indicate the earliest assessment of madness as spirit-possession. The ancient Greeks and medieval and Renaissance philosophers influenced by them replaced possession with irrationality as the cause of madness and exorcists with physicians as its curers. The Enlightenment stressed folly as the mark of madness; romanticism reacted by considering genius akin to madness. Asylums arose to secure the insane for their own good, and newly emergent psychiatry developed several ostensibly successful asylum strategies. As asylums became overloaded with incurables, however, disillusionment induced underfunding. Freud and his spawn came to psychiatry's rescue, but madness persists despite a century of psychoanalysis and of listening increasingly to what the insane say about their conditions. New drugs quash symptoms but have undesirable side effects, including dependency. Meanwhile, the medical profession is divided about the legitimacy of psychiatry. An ideal introduction to its subject, and a timely supplement to Robert Whitaker's superb Mad in America[BKL D 15 01]. Ray Olson.

Library Journal Review

No branch of medicine faces as much popular skepticism as psychiatry. In this readable yet rigorous little book with a global slant, Porter (social history of medicine, University Coll., London; The Greatest Benefit to Mankind) addresses that controversy by recounting the history of mental illness from antiquity to modern times. A wealth of facts and literary references illuminate how people went from believing that supernatural forces cause mental illness to their reliance on more rational and naturalistic explanations, culminating in today's combination of the medical and psychosocial models. Porter also discusses topical issues, including the relationship between lunacy and creativity; the drive to institutionalize, which peaked in the mid-20th century; the rise and demise of psychoanalysis; and the development of the antipsychiatry movement. This book combines the appeal of history as narrative with the intellectual stimulation derived from cogent analysis. Less comprehensive than Edward Shorter's A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac but more academic than Alex Beam's Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital, it will engage both general readers and psychiatry students with its sparkling prose and a well-annotated bibliography. Highly recommended. Antoinette Brinkman, M.L.S., Evansville, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Many first saw madness as caused by demons; then, with Christianity came the view that Satan fought with God for the souls of men, and that madness reflected Satan's victory. Early on, the mentally ill were the responsibility of family members. Later, the mad were housed with the homeless in "poor houses." Slowly, various asylums for the mad were built--Bethlem, starting in 1247 in England, followed by others. This led to the beginning of psychiatry as a science for managing patients. In the 1600s, competing and quasi-medical beliefs emerged that attempted to look rationally at madness, though intimations of this can be seen in the much earlier views of the Greeks. Scientists attempted to classify mental disorder as, e.g., melancholia, mania, idiocy, and dementia. At the same time, conflicts between organic and psychological models emerged. More sophisticated and complex psychiatric systems with professional organizations and journals followed. These diverse changes did not occur in any linear or sequential way; one change frequently overlapped another. Porter interestingly tells all of this in 200 pages organized in nine chapters, accompanied by 28 illustrations and a 12-page annotated bibliography. Useful for general audiences, undergraduate students, and perhaps high school students. D. Harper University of Rochester

Table of Contents

List of illustrationsp. xi
1 Introductionp. 1
2 Gods and demonsp. 10
3 Madness rationalizedp. 34
4 Fools and follyp. 62
5 Locking up the madp. 89
6 The rise of psychiatryp. 123
7 The madp. 156
8 The century of psychoanalysis?p. 183
9 Conclusion: modern times, ancient problems?p. 215
Further readingp. 219
Indexp. 234