Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Madness in Civilization: The Cultural History of Insanity” as Want to Read:
Madness in Civilization: The Cultural History of Insanity
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Madness in Civilization: The Cultural History of Insanity

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  353 ratings  ·  55 reviews

The loss of reason, a sense of alienation from the commonsense world we all like to imagine we inhabit, the shattering emotional turmoil that seizes hold and won’t let go—these are some of the traits we associate with madness. Today, mental disturbance is most commonly viewed through a medical lens, but societies have also sought to make sense of it through religion or the

Hardcover, 448 pages
Published March 23rd 2015 by Thames & Hudson
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Madness in Civilization, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Madness in Civilization

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  353 ratings  ·  55 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Madness in Civilization: The Cultural History of Insanity
Deborah Pickstone
Rivetingly interesting and will require a re-read or 6 - there is so much meat in here that I know I haven't yet wrung it dry! I especially liked the cover, very clever indeed. Excellent illustrations throughout add context. Scull defines madness as 'massive and lasting disturbances of reason, intellect and emotions' We do see here the first evidence of the medical model as there is no mention of spiritual disturbance nor of group phenomena, though I am guessing he has inferred the understanding ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
I am familiar with this long lurid history before reading this book. I don't romanticize madness, the mad are disturbing and hard to deal with but judging at how badly they are treated in age after age I can safely say they are people much more sinned against than sinning. In the age of religion they were possessed or in league with the devil, in the age after "the enlightenment" they had a loss or defect of reason they were animals to be confined for their own safety in squalid conditions in ...more
Ann Litz
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!
Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!"
-- King Lear

Madness in Civilization is simply one of the most stunning books I've ever read.

At various points in history, insanity, as depicted in Scull's book, has been deemed a divine punishment, a divine inspiration, a diabolical possession, an imbalance of humors, an honorable disease of the wealthy and super-intelligent, a hidden infection, a symptom of generational degeneracy, wartime "cowardice" deserving
Alumine Andrew
Jun 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is a very good read, although the topic and size of it may not at first compel you to pick it up. Scull is an expert in what is know about madness throughout history. He starts by going through the earliest written record of mad people, right up to modern day definitions and practises.

The book is full of fascinating stories of people and doctors who developed psychiatry. Treatments vary from the sadistic to the ingenious and are an eye opener to the medical profession.

I thoroughly
Feb 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Perhaps the fault is in my expectations. But this book turned out not to actually be a history of mental illness, but rather a very broad strokes accounting of the cultural history of institutional treatment of the mentally ill in select Western societies. It felt entirely incomplete and in a way dishonest. The author did not meaningfully address any non-Western "civilization", as though the West is the very definition of civilization. There also was no attempt to address community or familial ...more
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-reads
I expected Madness in Civilization to be fascinating. A survey of the conception of insanity throughout the ages could hardly be anything but, and Scull's masterful (and thoroughly, gorgeously endnoted) research turns up gem after horrifying gem about the plight of the mad in society. (Fun fact: in the early 20th century, doctors tried treating insanity by infecting their patients with meningitis.)

What I did not expect was for Madness to be as lovely as it is, with its almost-Saul-Bass cover
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
This broad history of attitudes toward and treatment of mental illness got off to a slow start for me. Knowing the library would demand it back, I skipped through the early part of the book where treatment focused on how to exorcise demons. Later chapters were more interesting to me. Mental illness encompasses many different diseases, some of which are cyclical. Many different treatments have appeared to work, especially when advocated by a charismatic practitioner. Hypnotism, psychoanalysis, ...more
Edward Sullivan
Compendious, erudite, and fascinating.
Nathan Albright
Jan 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2020
Madness has always presented a difficult challenge to civilization and it has drawn out the assumptions that exist behind a society in how it views those who are unable to keep up its demands. What forces or problems do we blame such mental problems for? How do we attempt to ameliorate the conditions of those who suffer? Who pays for their treatment? How do we learn about the etiology of these problems and how they may be fixed if it is at all possible? None of these are simple questions and ...more
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of my only problems with this book was that the photos of mental health records were too small/low quality for me to read them properly... I am definitely the audience the author had in mind. That being said, even someone extremely interested in mental health history will find some lulls, but the contextual knowledge makes the journey worthwhile. I read this book thinking it was a response to or elaboration on Foucault, but it is a historical account that tries (almost too hard) to be ...more
Civilization is a key part of what this book is about

It feels hypocritical to say this because I plan on using parts of this when I teach Hamlet next year; but I was disappointed in this book. It is certainly not BAD. I think the issue is that it’s been sitting on my shelf for so long, and I had such high expectations for it. Schull spends a lot of time talking here about the ways the mad we’re treated, depicted, housed, and defined. And those are all very interesting perspectives. The two
Jenny Esots
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author is an academic who is specialises as a social researcher into the nature of 'madness' or mental illness as we commonly define it. There is plenty of context across cultures and the ages. But it is the final chapter that inspires. Entitled A Psychiatric Revolution? The author contends that the brain is the final frontier and we are still decades away from any real understanding of 'madness'. The brain has billions and billions of connections making the cause mental illness very hard to ...more
Jenny Drai
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Andrew Scull's Madness in Civilization is an engagingly written history of cultural responses to madness/insanity/mental illness. I found it particularly interesting to learn that 'diagnostic creep' is not a recent phenomenon at all, and the book as a whole serves to remind the reader that the nature and origin of what we call mental illness is still not clearly understood. It's also a necessary read, I think, for anyone who is interested in exploring their own relationship with contemporary ...more
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A jarring account of madness, as biased as it is artistic. This treatise is more of a cry for social change than a dry academic manuscript. A cynical, jabbing exposé of humanity's struggles with the unknown, which ultimately and irrevocably continued to worsen the original problem, rather than making it better - often in the interests of money, power and status, as is often the case. A wonderful read for those contemplating the human rights of the mentally ill, a dramatic and incredibly ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Considering the respectable thickness of this book, the fact that I was continuously engaged (maybe not enthralled, but definitely engaged) makes the writing praiseworthy. It was accessible yet comprehensive, and not a dry read like many other historical accounts. The pictures strewn throughout probably helped. In summary; our understanding and treatment of madness has changed drastically throughout the ages, but the fundamental explanation behind its causes remains elusive, "inescapably part ...more
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
Truth is stranger than fiction, as they say, and this non-fictional history of insanity is such a mysterious who-dunnnit we still don't have many answers as to its causes or cures. Along the way, however, the ways and means we've implemented to deal with insanity is truly a horror story, the ending of which we haven't yet reached. How the current chapter will play itself out remains to be seen, but I can't imagine the story is going to have a happy ending. Unless God is reinvoked and a miracle ...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
It's a beautiful book filled with interesting information and art (glossy color plates, even), Scull writes well, and I read it very quickly. But at the end you'd think psychiatry and psychology had never achieved a single worthwhile thing. This history is, of course, dark (to put it lightly), yet the past few decades have produced some major advancements when it comes to mental health. Nevertheless, the author's tone is unrelentingly cynical. I think this is appropriate only, say, 95% of the ...more
Definitely left of center but a good general history of civilization's attempt to deal with the 'mad'. Problem is, on the whole, the author takes a deeply negative view of civilization's attempts. Scull is very much a cultural critic, or more accurately, a Cultural Marxist, but this doesn't make this history unreadable but it is occasionally difficult to plow one's way through it with its unending critique of urban culture (i.e. civilization).

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Daniel Gusev
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
An intriguing title on a maddening subject, often damp on details and sketchy, rather a collection of stories about madmen, crossing those alongside evolution of medicinal approach to treat the maladies of the mind.

A story about Frank Mesmer is a beguiling one, the one on lobotomy once hailed as a revolutionary advancement - despicable.
Jesse Ballenger
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really an amazing book. I'd read this before and intended only to re-read a few chapters to work up some lectures for a class I am teaching, but it covers so much so well and is so engagingly written that I found myself reading the whole thing again from cover to cover.
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Will not continue, it seems well researched enough but it's terribly boring. The history stuff is teaching me nothing new and it barely ties back to madness in any enlightening way. Not for me. Did not finish.
Kathy Brown
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Ultimately, left many quest2 unaddressed, and felt alot longer than 400 pages. Excellent illustrations and explained historical facts and events well.
Philippa Evans
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent discussion on the history of madness and mental institutions.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
A fascinating, hair-curling subject, of course, but this duder ain't a good or engaging writer. I dipped in and out and looked at all the pictures.
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Makes a fascinating subject dry and headache-inducing. DNF
Andrew Ma
Jul 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
Reads more like a reference book. A little formal and uptight. Struggles to engage the reader
Nicklas Karlsson
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: popular-science
A highly recommended book! Not just for the subject but as a fascinating read in itself.

The one critique I would have is the perhaps lacking aspect of society, the connection between society. I understand that this is probably quite futile to attempt, since talking about "society" is not really possible, just as talking about the "mind" is quite hard unless you freeze time and limit inputs.

As the title state though, the book was a bit heavy one the mind side of things I found. Madness as
Frederick Gault
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
The things that we did to each other in the past with the idea that we were helping are frightening. Insane people have a special place in history when it comes to mistreatment. Most of the mistreatment was generated out of ignorance, a True desire to help without the knowledge to back it up. Unfortunately, unlike medicine in general, madness has remained resistant to affective treatments and cures. This is primarily because the human organ of thought it Is hellishly complex and poorly ...more
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psych, history
I have a mixed response to this book; while it was thorough and readable, it fell short of my expectations and failed to fully explore the unique theses imparted by Scull. The writing assumes the reader has a "basic" education is the humanities (but not psychology), thus limiting its readership to an intellectual elite (and out of the hands of many of the subjects it discusses). My interest was piqued toward the middle of the book, and I appreciated the discussions of the influence of "madness" ...more
David Usharauli
In this book, "Madness in Civilization", Andrew Scull has presented historical view about mental disorders. It appears that for past 3000 years we did not make much progress in understanding it. What has changed, however, is how they are treated. Today psycho-pharmacology dominates the field. It is less aggressive form of treatment compared to insulin shock or electroshock therapies (not to mention water boarding therapy developed in 19th century).

posted by David Usharauli

« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery
  • Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason
  • States of Denial: A New Perspective
  • Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good
  • Neuroplasticity
  • Obsession: A History
  • Artificial Unintelligence
  • Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean
  • Approaching Disability: Critical issues and perspectives
  • Kingdom of Needle and Bone
  • Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates
  • Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction
  • Contradictions of the Welfare State
  • Dostoevsky
  • The Power of Body Language: How to Succeed in Every Business and Social Encounter
  • My Early Life, 1874-1904
  • Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
  • Jurnalul fericirii
See similar books…
Andrew T. Scull (born 1947) is a British-born sociologist whose research is centered on the social history of medicine and particularly psychiatry. He is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Science Studies at University of California, San Diego and recipient of the Roy Porter Medal for lifetime contributions to the history of medicine. His books include Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of ...more
“As its lists of diagnoses and ‘diseases’ proliferate, the frantic efforts to distinguish ever-larger numbers of types and sub-types of mental disorder come to seem like an elaborately disguised game of make-believe.” 1 likes
“Hippocratic text read, ‘the womb is the origin of all diseases’.” 0 likes
More quotes…