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The Three Christs of Ypsilanti: A Narrative Study of Three Lost Men

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  425 ratings  ·  57 reviews

On July 1, 1959, at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, the social psychologist Milton Rokeach brought together three paranoid schizophrenics: Clyde Benson, an elderly farmer and alcoholic; Joseph Cassel, a failed writer who was institutionalized after increasingly violent behavior toward his family; and Leon Gabor, a college dropout and veteran of World War II.

The men h

Hardcover, 1st Edition
Published 1964 by Knoff
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Three schizophrenics—Clyde, Joseph, and Leon—are brought together in a Michigan state mental institution in 1959 (before the onset of the devastating 'deinstitutionalization' that Rick Moody laments in his introduction). Each one believes he is God, in some manifestation: either originary or reincarnated. Not a god among gods, but the one true authoritative God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, albeit with the baroque and often unintelligible embellishments of the psychotic mind. Clinical psycho ...more
Ypsilanti is a medium-sized city just an afternoon's drive south of my hometown. It is close to two major universities, and is affectionately referred to as 'Yipsi' by its inhabitants. There are microbreweries, an art scene and hipster spillover from U-Michigan, and famous Art Fairs, Heritage Festivals, and even an Elvis competition for the inhabitants.

This is Ypsilanti General Hospital, where three men who thought themselves Jesus Christ lived. The author, a trained psychologist in the traditio
Mar 21, 2012 MG rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to MG by: God
Shelves: haunts
"I believe in truthful bullshit," Leon said. "There are two types of bullshit. The genuine is truth and truth can be compared to dung: it looks like dung, smells like it, and acts like it. When you put it on top of soil, it makes it grow." Leon, one of three paranoid schizophrenics featured on this work, is a Jesus among Jesuses in Milton Rokeach's extended case study The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. Is Leon being profound or is he just "full of shit," as the saying goes? According to the unusual ...more
Kyle Muntz
This is a remarkable, utterly unique book focusing on a (somewhat ethically questionable) experiment of putting three schizophrenics who all thought of themselves as being Jesus Christ into a focus group; and seeing what happened. Despite being a fairly serious psychological study, it's thoughtfully, sometimes beautifully written by Rokeach, who works transcripts of the 3 men into a narrative with all the force of a novel. It's a challenging, hopeless story but one with moments of warmth (especi ...more
In 1959, Milton Rokeach, a social psychologist working at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan, brought together three patients who each firmly believed he was Jesus Christ. Rokeach says, “Initially, my main purpose in bringing them together was to explore the processes by which their delusional systems of belief and their behavior might change if they were confronted with the ultimate contradiction conceivable for human beings: more than one person claiming the same identity.”

His stu
Aaron Mcquiston
The Three Christs of Ypsilanti is an early psychology case study involving three men in Ypsilanti State Hospital who think they are Jesus. The problem with reading this now is that it seems unethical and cruel, mostly because it is unethical and cruel. I had to keep reminding myself that this was an experiment that started in 1959, Freud had only been dead for 20 years, Erik Erikson was publishing all of his work, and most of the important papers that Rokeach sites are less than ten years old. T ...more
Maria Caggiano
Jul 01, 2007 Maria Caggiano rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People with a sense of humor about Psychiatry
Shelves: othernon-fiction
This book is the true account of a clinical psychologist who engineered to have 3 men all with the delusion that they were Jesus on the same psychiatric ward at the same time. In an act that I am sure would not be allowed by today's clinical practice guidelines, he ran group therapy sessions with just these three men and let them argue about who was the true savior. It is very odd and unbelievable. However, it is interesting if only from the perspective that we will most likely never be allowed ...more
Greg Brown
I really enjoyed it! Like most NYRB Classics, it’s a gem of a book—fascinating as a work of psychology, touching as a work of literature.

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but here’s the premise: Rokeach’s academic work is all about the often-glacial systems of belief we base our lives on, and he wants to see what happens when two of our most deeply-held beliefs clash against each other. And what might be the most deeply-held beliefs involve our identity, specifically who we are
Milton Rokeach was a psychologist whose main interest was that of identity - he wondered how we develop one, and what makes us who we are. Something as basic as an identity is hard to study in an ethical fashion, as it is indeed one of the baselines of what makes all of us human.

In order to try and get to the root of what is and isn't important in the formation of identity, Rokeach hit upon the idea of confronting people with what should be the most disturbing thing they could imagine - someone
Interesting book. What I liked most was the author's retrospective afterword written many years after the books initial publication. He admits his own megalomaniac tendencies concerning the study. Refers to himself as the fourth Christ in the study. This book also provides some terrifying insight into the loose ethics of mental health treatment a few decades ago. Writing letter to schizophrenic people claiming that you're their reincarnated blessed mother monkey wife was ok back then. Read this ...more
Jonjane Doe
The three christs were three institutionalised schizophrenics.

THE THREE CHRISTS met for the first time in a small room off the large ward where they live. The date was July 1, 1959. All three had been transferred to Ward D-23 of Ypsilanti State Hospital a few days before and had been assigned to adjacent beds, a shared table in the dining hall, and similar jobs in the laundry room.

The experiment:

Initially, my main purpose in bringing them together was to explore the processes by which their delu
Josh Luft
From 1959 to 1961, at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, social psychologist Milton Rokeach studied three paranoid schizophrenics who believed themselves to be Jesus Christ. The findings captured in this narrative are fascinating. Through group meetings, observations, and experiments, Rokeach was able to reveal a little bit of the complex inner workings of identity and belief. At times, as one would imagine, it's quite sad--these are men who are trapped in delusions, which has led to severed ...more
Feb 15, 2008 Thomas rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Psych Fans and Buffs
Recommended to Thomas by: Too Many Professors & "Dan"
This book was like the Holy Grail after always hearing great things about it from various professors and friends. After years of searching (this was long before the Internet and Powells and whatnot) I came across it at a used book store. Was it worth all the hype? What is? Still an interesting experiment that would've made for a great 20/20 episode to watch.
Peter Smith

"Nobody can change you, you are too set in your ways," Leon answered.
"I'm God, for crying out loud!" Joseph shouted.

" All systems of belief, delusional as well as non-delusional, serve a twofold purpose: to understand the world insofar as possible and to defend against it insofar as necessary. We do not agree with those who hold that people selectively distort their cognitive functioning so that they will see, remember, and think only what they want to. Instead we hold to the view that people wi
Taylor Warner
Is this an experiment in which the ends justified the means? It's rather cruel to throw three disturbed men into one room in Michigan to debate one another on who is, truly, the Son of God...but the inherent humor and absurdity proves titillating, not to mention the debate between them was, shockingly (to Rokeach's annoyance) nonviolent and even productive for everyone involved including the author, who comes to make this thought provoking statement:

"The Three Christs were, if not rational men,
Splendid case history of three mental patients. Fascinating.
Questa non è una recensione
I Tre Cristi – ora sapete a chi rivolgervi
Premetto che questa non è una recensione al libro, non ne sono capace, sono solo un umile servo del Signore… ma non ho ancora capito di quale dei tre.
Il saggio/romanzo racconta di 3 schizofrenici paranoidi che ritengono di essere Dio e parenti vari, anche acquisiti, fino al 3 grado (problema per altro abbastanza diffuso) e di come uno psichiatra li riunisca sotto uno stesso tetto sperando di risolvere il problema creandone un
An interesting artifact, a sort of pop account of Rokeach's attempt to cure three schizophrenics by a series of crude manipulations. Well written and appealingly candid. The result is a reminder of a time when psychiatric treatment was far more compelling. And stupid (reading about Rokeach's strategies brought to mind watching videos from the early days of skateboarding, when apparently all that was required to become a pioneer was to stick with the activity until one's peers dropped away due to ...more
Three Christs of Ypsilanti was written in the late 1950's by a psychiatrist who brought three mental patients who all believed themselves to be Christ together in the hope that being confronted with 'the impossible' (another person claiming the same identity) that their condition would improve and they would possibly be cured of their delusions. This book offers an excellent though somewhat outdated look into the inner workings of the delusional mind. I found the doctor to be very egotistical an ...more
This book was just sad. Researcher in personality disorders brings together three (mostly older) men who share the same delusion -- that they are Jesus Christ. I started my legal career working with the mentally ill, so while I'm no expert, much of the behavior and medical description was very familiar. One thing that comes shining through this text is just the intractability of mental illness. These patients cannot be "fixed".

While the researcher certainly did not intend his experiments to be
John Pappas
Documenting his controversial and most likely unethical treatment of three individuals under his care who think they are Jesus Christ, psychologist Milton Rokeach provides an intense, dramatic account of his pioneering work in identity and belief. His fundamental question: What happens when you put three men who think they are Jesus into a situation where they interact every day? Will they change their beliefs? Will they become cured? Rokeach's treatment first focuses on presenting situations th ...more
The author, a social psychologist, brings together three schizophrenic men who believe they are Christ (Clyde, a 70 year old farmer; Joseph, a 50 year old failed writer; and Leon, a 30 year old man who had a psychotic, controlling mother). Through daily meetings and certain questionably ethical experiments, Rokeach tries to see what will happen when men are presented with the impossible idea that two people share the exact same identity, and whether they can thus move closer to a realistic view ...more
People in a mental institution, suffering from the delusion that they are someone famous and great -- perhaps, even God. It's gotten to the point of being a cliche. But what if three people, all of whom believed that they were Jesus Christ, were placed together? Fighting? Accusations? Perhaps the contradiction would force one or all of them to reconsider their beliefs?

This book gives an account of just such an experiment, performed in 1959 in Michigan. At first, the idea seems interesting. Unfor
Alford Wayman
An excellent book on beliefs, identity confrontation, and how people come to view the world and themselves. While the study is not perfect, an admission by even the author and researcher Milton Rokeach, the project went a long way to explain how we come to believe what we do and how those experiences and identities, influenced by environment, culture, and the need for inclusion, or depersonalization, and ones desire to be competent and great influce how we view ourselves and our place in the wor ...more
Meaghan Gosling
This is good. Seriously. Reading crazy can stretch your imagination pretty far, but this is so much more. Explore identity, core beliefs, how do we hold them and protect them. These are some extreme cases, but it is fascinating (and confusing) to see how their minds work. There are some ethical boundaries pushed (you will feel uncomfortable), a nice reminder that psychology is still an infant in terms of the sciences, and ever evolving. What is learned about identity, schizophrenia and beliefs i ...more
"Awareness of loneliness, of isolation, is one of the most characteristic experiences of the contemporary world."

Milton Rokeach includes this quote by American sociologist Helen Merrell Lynd towards the end of his book The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, and even though the book was first published in the 60s, this still rings true. Now, a couple of decades later, nothing is easier than creating the illusion of a community or finding interaction with another human being, and maybe it is exactly bec
Yes, fine, with hindsight a few people will have understood the experiment was ethically dubious. So what? It happened, and we could have been left with a much less interesting and beautiful document, or with none at all. Instead we have one of the most incredible ways of coming slightly closer to the experience paranoid schizophrenics (as the patients are labelled). That's praiseworthy.

Regardless, the book itself is worth praising for a number of reasons:

— The Christs are a fascinating trio. E
amazing book about a psychologist ho brings together for about 2 years three mad people who each believe that they are Jesus Christ and by default therefore God also. It reminded me a lot about Luigi Pirandello’s’ one no one one hundred thousand in places as its essentially a book about identity. A similar experiment was tried hundreds of years before by Voltaire who bought together 2 madmen who believed they were the same person and one was cured. In places this book was realy profound and in p ...more
Slightly boring but heartbreaking tale about three schizophrenics -- each believes he is Christ -- brought together at Ypsilanti State Hospital.

February 6. "G.M. Anderson, please. I have mentioned from my eariliest remembrances was persuasion through sex, living my life against my will, and I don't go for this stuff. It's better to live alone, relating to positive nothingness. There is no better. I'm trying to bring out that that's the focal point of human behavior -- the way they mistreated me.
Too intriguing, too fantastic, and all too human, Three Christs of Ypsilanti is a case study stemming from a 1960s psychology experiment that brought together three schizophrenia patients who believed themselves to be Christ. Although much of the text recounts the incoherent ramblings of madmen, there is at the heart of the book a piercing question of identity asking how and why we construct our own notions of ourselves.

With its keenness for emotional details and Rokeach's surprising literary s
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NYRB Classics: The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, by Milton Rokeach 1 4 Oct 30, 2013 08:01PM  
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On Christmas. "Santa Claus represents God on assistance," said Clyde.

"Santa Claus is a negative-idealed god, the pagan god of material worship," Leon stated. "Christmas means the rebirth, regeneration. Some people have Christmas every day. The Christmas tree stands up and either the wife trims it or they trim it together with righteous-idealed sexual intercourse. Or the husband prays to God through his Christmas tree and trims his bodily Christmas tree. Christ-mast; the mast of Christ, the upstanding penis—that's what it means to me."

"Santa Claus is a good symbolization for Christmas," said Joseph. "Department stores, shopping, the coming of the New Year. Christmas means better business in the stores.”
“Deviation from the word of God is sentimentality and says 'you're right' to this one, and 'you're right' to that one, and the guy in the middle is an ass-hole.” 3 likes
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