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Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  103 ratings  ·  15 reviews
Madhouse reveals a long-suppressed medical scandal, shocking in its brutality and sobering in its implications. It shows how a leading American psychiatrist of the early twentieth century came to believe that mental illnesses were the product of chronic infections that poisoned the brain. Convinced that he had uncovered the single source of psychosis, Henry Cotton, superin ...more
Hardcover, 376 pages
Published April 10th 2005 by Yale University Press
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“We are all born mad. Some remain so.” - Samuel Beckett

One of the scariest non-fiction books I have read in a long time and it is so shocking that it kept me up nights. This is the history of a nightmarish mental state hospital in Trenton, New Jersey in the 1920's and its young medical director, an unethical American psychiatrist named Henry Cotton. Dr. Cotton sincerely believed that all mental illness was caused by infection (germs and pus) of the body. He was not the only doctor that felt this
Would have made a great, long essay in a magazine, but this book is overwritten. There are some compelling pieces - the image of women get dragged into an operating room kicking and screaming, to have their teeth, tonsils, colons and ovaries removed (in order to remove an sepsis that could be leading to their insanity, in line with the mad doctor's theory) - that's pretty chilling. But I had to skim over bits detailing the doctor's trips abroad, his reception in the medical community, etc. If yo ...more
Apr 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-ish
An intriguing and informative read that's haunted me for the many months since I finished reading it. It's not as fresh in my mind as it was even a few weeks ago but I can still compose a few thoughts. It tells an amazing tale that should be known by more people. By 'amazing' I mean horrifying. It's a difficult book to read, not only because of its dark subject matter, but because many chapters plod along dully and without strongly engaging the reader. I suspect this is why it has an average rat ...more
Nov 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book is about a horrifying chapter in American medical history. Psychiatrist Henry Cotton practiced in the early 1900s and became convinced that mental illness was caused by infection in other parts of the body, such as the teeth, the colon, the tonsils, and the uterus, and therefore recommended removing some or all of these organs in order to reverse the mental illness. He believed this so strongly that he had all of his childrens' teeth pulled out to prevent them from going nuts later in ...more
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an important book for people working in the mental health field and clients both to read. The author lapses into a style reminiscient of Edgar Allen Poe's Victorian drama at times, but that just added to my enjoyment. This book certainly shows the effect of discrimination against people with mental illnesses- his "treatment" having over 30% mortality rates was never seen as a problem! A couple of evil doctors (Cotton AND Meyers), a brilliant and troubled female doctor's betrayal and cens ...more
Jeffrey Acorn
Feb 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about the history of medicine in psychiatry. Andrew Scull brings forth the history of one foul doctor in a highly engaging, page turning story. Scull commands mastery of style and does not just present facts. He weaves a story such that you might find in the mystery section of the bookstore. If you work in the profession, its important to see where the field once was and where it was going especially in light of the evidenced based t ...more
Julia Taylor-Golbey
Sep 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book vacillated between a historical thriller and a white paper on mental illness, so it took away some of my enjoyment ( if you can view the whittling away of helpless mental patients a pleasant endeavor). Style issues aside, it merits a read to get an idea of just how far the treatment of the mentally impaired has come but also a reflection on how stigmatization remains rooted in how society handles mental illness.
Jun 23, 2008 rated it liked it
ok, so i didn't really finish this book. but i've been wanting to for some time. i brought it on a vacation weekend --- shoulda brought the gossip girl series instead. topically this is the book i want to write. so yea, what i read was interesting for those who are into those sorta things... megalomania, modern medicine, yea. ...more
Joe B
Jun 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
The content of this book was all new to me and extraordinary. 'Trust me, I'm a doctor' will never ring so hollow again for me. However, the writing style was laboured and infected with too many, so very needless, medical words. So that spoiled it for me, a layman. The writer could have taken a note out of 'Blood and Guts; a history of surgery' and written far more accessibly. ...more
Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Really interesting, shocking material. I agree it's a bit longer than it needs to be, but the book is really well-researched and Scull's range of sources is impressive. Madhouse makes you wonder what we're doing today about which people will be slapping their foreheads 50-100 years from now. ...more
Paul Coletti
Quite dull at some points but very well-written.
Aug 02, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Not nearly as exciting as the title and back cover imply. Focused more on reports and documents then mental illness.
May Ling Wu
Jun 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
I found this fascinating.
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Absolutely fascinating. The guy was a bit flamboyant with his prose sometimes and tried to really pull out some impressive words almost to comic effect, but overall really in-depth research.
Monica Haley
Dec 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting material but the writing was not the best. So much of the information was just repeated over and over and there were a few obvious jokes that were just simply out of place.
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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 Megalomani ...more

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