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Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  530 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews

“[A work of] wit, wisdom and richness. . . . A grand tour of derangement, from matricide to anorexia.” —John Leonard, Harper’s

This fascinating history of mind doctors and their patients probes the ways in which madness, badness, and sadness have been understood over the last two centuries. Lisa Appignanesi charts a story from the days when the mad were considered possess

Paperback, 560 pages
Published August 31st 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2007)
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(showing 1-30)
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Cherie Medford
I'm so beyond furious, it's likely best if I wait to review this novel, but if I hope to get some restful sleep, I have to vent.

The last 100, definitely last 50 pages, were interminable, scathing judgements by a writer who is clearly a sensationalist in journalism who I would hazard to say has little to no real life experience with mental illness. As a fellow human being, I'm glad for her-I wouldn't wish mental illness on my worst enemies. But as a perceived objective reporter, she has no busin
Mar 17, 2013 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize, which is about right. It's clearly a Serious Work intended for that sort of prize, but it's so oddly bloodless and unengaging that it doesn't deserve to go further. Appignanesi seems more interested in the therapists, male and female, than the patients, none of whom get much of a look-in, despite being the ostensible subject of the book. There is no attempt to look at the experience of madness even when she is discussing women who wrote extensively about ...more
Feb 16, 2010 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Appignanesi chronicles the history of mental illness and women from the time when mental illness first became thought of as something that actually could be treated. At first, hospitals for the mentally ill were nothing more than storage facilities to keep the patient out of the families hair. Gradually, however, doctors came to feel that treatments, from isolation rooms to Freud’s ‘talking cure’ to ECT to all the assorted drugs, old and new. There have always been more female mental patients th ...more
Apr 24, 2008 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: The psy-curious
Appignanesi offers a detailed and critical review of the last two centuries of "mind-doctoring", from alienism to physiognomy to psychoanalysis to psychiatry. However, one gets the sense that the loose focus on women came only after the book was written, more as a suggestion from her editor to pare the tome down, rather than being the author's incipient specialization. Throughout the entirety of the book, Appignanesi re-addresses the topic of womanhood just at the point when the reader double-ch ...more
AJ LeBlanc
I didn't finish this one. It was too much textbook and long case study for me to get excited about.

I read Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation about a year ago and was hoping this would be the same type of book. I was looking for information on how the mental health profession has developed and the role women patients played in it.

This book might have gotten there, but I couldn't get my brain where it needed to be to really sit down with the material and read.
I borrowed this to use in my MA dissertation, and was rewarded with an absolutely wonderful, engrossing, and well-researched read. I love the way in which Appignanesi writes, and this is going to be a go-to book for me for many years to come. Just wonderful.
Kate F
Apr 25, 2011 Kate F rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a big book about a huge subject. It intrigued me in the book shop and has largely kept my interest throughout. It could perhaps have been reduced by about 25% in length without any loss of interest - indeed it would have benefited from a litlle pruning. The case histories that she used were particularly interesting. I found the sections about the various amendments to the diagnostic manuals for mental health rather heavy going and could quite happily have skipped those bits had I not tho ...more
Sep 11, 2013 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
It was interesting, but really could have been put together in a more compelling manner. Also - a book about women, but by volume it sure seemed to be very about men instead. If this was some sort of meta-message, it was not effective.
Mar 04, 2014 Sylvie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the historical examples of the treatment of women with mental health problems, and the clear way Appignanesi breaks down theories and treatments.

As the book progressed, I felt concerned that the 'mental health biographies' of modern figures were almost salacious: I felt this most strongly with the passages concerning Sylvia Plath and Marilyn Monroe. I also felt uncomfortable with some aspects of Appignanesi's conclusions (where modern medication and therapies do more to create
Kate Gould
Feb 18, 2010 Kate Gould rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Possession, love, sex (too much or too little), religion, abuse, grief, and heredity, to name a few – the causes of women’s madness are myriad. Taking the most consistent bashing as cause by the “psy” professions is mothers. No surprise there: when she hasn’t been accused of rendering sons unfit for military service by over-nurturing them, she’s been driving daughters to anorexia with inattention.

Appignanesi’s account takes in obscure and well-known patients and their doctors. It both affirms c
Jan 24, 2013 Dillon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In all honesty, this was a weird book. Well, it is about the woman mind. Mad, Bad and Sad by Lisa Appignanesi is full of facts and contradicitons of the woman mind. It explains discrepensies back to the date of the 1800's to today. The book covers past asylums in history and also the schizophrenia that goes along with women. All in all, this was a decent book, at times the book seemed really long (560 pages) and dry and before i knew it, i read about 10 pages and was thinking about something tot ...more
Oct 18, 2008 Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sam by: women's bookgroup
A fascinating history of both womens'role and how women have been treated by the psychiatric and psychoanalytical professions as they have evolved. While the author claims not to disparage modern medicine its a bit disingenuous. My only disappointment is that while her criticisms are thought provoking and valid she doesn't have any real conclusion to the work. In some ways she very nearly suggests that its the existence of the psychoanalytical professions that cause the problem in the first plac ...more
D.E. Meredith
Aug 16, 2011 D.E. Meredith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this book twice now, with a year's gap. Brilliant case studies and well put together. Fascinating stuff and a really good one to read alongside Roy Porter and his various books on madness. Despite its girth, I read it incredibly quickly. The stuff at the end on anorexia and eating disorders, was very interesting as I came at this book with my Victoriana hat on. It seems women have forever been driven mad by the world's merciless expectations and Appignanesi is nothing if not passionately em ...more
I tried to get through this book. I really, really did, as there's a wonderful amount of information in hear about the history of the psychiatric profession in general, along with numerous case studies of how the mental health field has been applied to women though the past several centuries.

Sadly, there was just too much of a Textbook Effect at work for me to make through the final third. The sheer density of the material ultimately defeated me, and when I found myself skimming entire chapters
Jun 26, 2013 emily marked it as didnt-finish  ·  review of another edition
didn't finish this one, and i maxed out my library renewals on it hoping at some point i'd feel motivated to dive back into the dense & quite often roundabout text that this book appeared to be. i don't think i got further than the first 100 pages, but even within that space the topic seemed to cycle around half-irrelevant points continuously until i forgot what the point actually was in the first place. it would need a hefty edit and an author with a bit more spark in their writing (non-fic ...more
Mar 06, 2008 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm in two minds about this book. The subject is interesting, and the post-Freud chapters were especially fascinating, but the book was poorly executed. The writing got quite dense and there were some egregious editing errors. I kept thinking how much better it could/should have been. On the whole I'm glad I read it, but would only recommend it if you have a strong interest in the subject matter.
There were sections in this book I found very interesting; some of the stories of patients or "mind doctors" were very interesting to read and compare how things have changed over time. Ultimately, however, I was disappointed with this book. I really felt it was a trudge to get through it and for little enjoyment in comparison to the time it took me to read it.
Aug 24, 2008 Sherah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a more up to date version of earlier 'women and madness' texts by Chesler, Showalter, and Ussher. Less biased, though. Worth the read.
Amanda Seyderhelm
Critical feminist overview of women's relationship with the psyche doctors over last century. Brilliantly researched and intelligently written.
Morag Gray
Jul 04, 2012 Morag Gray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account of the history of the treatment of mental illness, particularly pertaining to women. Worthwhile reading.
This book uncovers the history of psychiatry through the personal lives, studies and achievements of the principal mind doctors whose main focus was to understand and treat women and who left a mark in this medical area.

The narrative goes on in a more-or-less chronological manner, starting from the late 18th century and traversing the main countries (Britain, France, Austria, USA) in which psychiatry started to evolve. It starts from the atrocious conditions in European asylums and Pinel's icon
April review for Eclectic Reader's Challenge 2016: Mad, Bad & Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors by Lisa Appignaensi, 2009. [Psychology (non-fiction) category]

My selection for Psychology (non-fiction) was Mad, Bad & Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors, a book about the last two hundred years' worth of "extreme states of mind" in women. It chronicled the way women have been diagnosed over the years and evaluated the gradual shift in societal perspectives on these unusua
It took me forever to read this, or at least quite a few months, for it is big of book and I am small of brain, and also easily distracted by other books, also known as internets and fanfictions. It’s a riveting book though, once you start to read it in a serious way, setting out to describe the relationship between psychiatry and women over the last 200 years, from 1800s onwards.

Utterly engrossing and wonderfully thorough, at times it also reads like a horror story in places, highlighting the v
Oct 01, 2008 Lindsay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the history of the mental health profession or women's history
Recommended to Lindsay by: the New York Times Book Review
A lively, well-researched look at women's experiences of mental illness and its treatment from the late 18th century to the present day. Chapters are arranged in roughly chronological order, with each chapter highlighting a particular theme that predominated each era's understanding of mental illness and its expression. (Appignanesi is a big believer in cultural influences dictating the form a mental illness takes). Each chapter also features one or two famous case histories that illustrate thes ...more
"By the end of the fifties it was becoming increasingly evident to some that the triumphalist mind doctors, whatever their status in the media and as paid personal helpmates, couldn't tell a troubled and rebellious growing girl, let alone a non-conforming all-American male, from a raving madperson. Defiance, unruliness, disobedience were characteristics they translated all too readily into the language of illness. Meanwhile, many asylums were little better than prisons where drugs, experiment an ...more
Sherri Griffin
Dec 11, 2013 Sherri Griffin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is not the easiest book to plow through, but it's an interesting book in small doses at a time. Luckily, each section is relatively small so it's easy to read in bits and pieces. It was fun to learn about famous women like Marilyn Monroe in a way you may not have heard before, while also reading about new stories with women who history had forgotten. Some of it's shocking, some if it is appalling, and some of it is just interesting. For what it is and if you love history-- it's worth readin ...more
Ash Shalvey-Phelan
Lost out on the final star due to the drastic turn the final section took. Up to that point, everything was laid out in a very factual way with flair and illumination. The final part was chock full of generalisations, incoherence, inconsistencies, and at times, downright lies and misinformation. However as that section was a much less historical one, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt - just don't expect anything insightful or accurate on modern medicine.
May 24, 2015 Gia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing read about women and the doctors. It starts in the early days and ends in the 2000's. I am a huge fan of Marilyn Monroe and Sylvia Plath, whom are two of the women she speaks about. Just a warning, it is a long, wordy book so be ready. Definitely worth the read if you are interested in mental illness and how we got to where we are today.
Genevieve Dingle
Aug 05, 2013 Genevieve Dingle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very intriguing history of societal responses to mental illness, told through a series of cases of women. I liked the attention to the women's experience from their journals and letters and also broader considerations of the roles and rights of women in each era. It has informed my teaching in clinical psychology.
Aug 16, 2009 Gerald rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book very apt, thorough and enlightening. Many of the threads and strands it explores are done clearly and brilliantly. The latter chapters on personality disorders, medication and the medicalisation of mental illness were thought provoking and inspiring: to do something against the over medicalised field of what is perhaps a more social and cultural diagnosis.
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Different from Mad, Bad and Sad? 1 22 Apr 25, 2008 03:54PM  
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aka Jessica Ayre

Elżbieta Borensztejn was born on 4 January 1946 in Łódź, Poland, the daughter of Hena and Aaron Borensztejn with Jewish origin. Following her birth, her parents moved to Paris, France, and in 1951 they emigrating to Canada. She grew up in the province of Quebec - first in a small Laurentian town, subsequently in Montreal.

She graduated from McGill University with a B.A. degree in 19
More about Lisa Appignanesi...

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