Lisa M.'s Reviews > Madness: A Brief History

Madness by Roy Porter
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Jun 19, 12

bookshelves: non-fiction, 5252
Read from June 08 to 19, 2012

This book would be better titled “Madness: A Brief History of Madness in Western Society.” In the introduction, Porter claims that he will only address views on madness in Western society. In a 218 page book, it was difficult to summarize western madness— let alone including Eastern traditions. Porter handled this without tact, however. I would have liked it if he had written an accompanying, similar book about the Eastern concepts of madness. I know a lot about insanity— I have done a lot of personal research and wrote my undergraduate thesis on it— and I know little about Eastern insanity, besides rates of eating disorders and culturally specific disorders. I would have liked to learn more. The author’s dismissive attitude raised red flags for me throughout this book. As far as the actual content goes, the author does his best to summarize such a large topic with brevity. I would say he does a good job and includes key players and plot points, although a longer text would allow him to provide more evidence and a deeper study. Once again, I find myself curious as to why he chose to write such a short book on such a large topic— even if he was focused primarily on Western ideas. The other ting that raised red flags for me was the way the author treated the insane in his book. He focused throughout on how society viewed the insane, and out of the nine chapters dedicated one solely to the insane. He argued that texts/art by the insane are not to be trusted— only a good historian could weed out the facts from the insanity in these texts. I was infuriated. People with mental disorders are still people. Period. Their perceptions of reality are valid. Period. How dare this author — and other people— so easily sweep away the importance and credibility of their experiences? It infuriated me. And yet, at other times, his arguments about psychiatry— particularly cynical bits— made me feel like he was in agreement with many of my radical views on psychiatry. It was confusing and I wish he could have stabilized his tone. I would suggest to anyone seriously interested in psychology, but supplement it with a variety of different works to get a full balanced view on the issues.
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