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Autism in History: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue Paperback – 17 Sep 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (17 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631220895
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631220893
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 622,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"This is a comprehensive history, charting thinking, practice and theories from the late 1930s to the present day . . . Recommended – a much–needed addition to the autism library." (Communication Magazine, 1 April 2011) "I found this book utterly absorbing and utterly convincing. The richness of historical detail – testimonies and actual interrogations – and its telling hold one like a novel. The minute sifting of the evidence is in the best historico–clinical tradition, weighing everything carefully, never overstating or pushing. The interest spreads in all directions – about the way the law, the culture, and ordinary people thought of mental incapacity or madness in the eighteenth century. I think Autism in History will be extremely valuable in many different ways." Oliver Sacks M.D. Author of Awakenings "The authors guide us through the case with an expert hand, in a book written for a wide range of non–specialist readers. What′s more, the book constitutes a unique introduction to autism, presenting both its scientific and clinical aspects, as well as the person and their social circumstances. A stimulating read." Infancia y Aprendizaje , vol 24(2), 2001. "Rab Houston and Uta Frith provide a splendid case study of probably autism from eighteenth–century Scotland. Houston and Frith are to be congratulated in their synthesis of the evidence for Hugh Blair of Borgue being a case of autism in history. They have done so in a manner and style that is as cautious as it is thorough." Stephen Jones, Norfolk Mental Health Care Trust, Social History of Medicine, vol 14 (2), 2001 . "This is a fascinating book." RH Campbell, Transactions, Vol 75, 2001 "In presenting Hugh Blair, a member of the landowning class in eighteenth–century Scotland, Autism in History demonstrates a refreshing lack of squeamishness ... Although Houston and Frith conclude confidently that they are looking at a case of the same condition we now call autism, they remain sensitive to the ways that historical conditions could influence the perception or presentation of the disorder. In addition, Houston and Frith amass convincing data to show that Blair was, in fact, autistic. It might be possible to quibble with their retrospective diagnosis, but they make a highly plausible case." Jonathan Sadowsky, Castele Associate Professor of Medical History, Case Western Reserve University, Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences, Fall 2003

From the Back Cover

This case study is the result of a unique collaboration between a social historian and a cognitive scientist. It examines the enigmatic case of Hugh Blair, an eighteenth century Scottish ′laird′ or landowner, whose arranged marriage was annulled on the grounds of his mental incapacity. Through an in–depth study of the evidence surrounding the case, the authors conclude that Blair, who was classed at the time as a ′fool′, was in fact autistic. Writing in a lively and engaging style, the authors draw together witness statements from court records with a wide range of other documentation to set the sociohistoric scene for the case. This provides a fascinating context to which the latest theories on autism are applied. This book will not only intrigue both historians and psychologists but will also appeal to a wider audience for its study of this compelling and deeply affecting human story.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By customer on 26 Dec 2011
Format: Paperback
The favourable notices in Amazon's product description don't do this book justice; it's a gem. Frith is probably the world's foremost authority on autism and Houston, not quite as famous, a fine social historian of Britain. Together they have produced an enthralling account of a man from the eighteenth century who, they argue convincingly, suffered from autism. His name was Hugh Blair. Using testimonies from those closest to him in a protracted court case to prove he was mentally incapable of managing his own affairs, the authors probe deep into the minds of those long dead. Houston explains the historical context essential to making a correct diagnosis, for even a condition with a genetic origin is experienced and identified within its cultural context. Frith deals with the 'case notes' as she would an enquiry from a modern clinician, telling us much about the complex phenomenon of autism that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human. The story is vividly told, with details like the way Hugh himself chose to sleep in a freezing garret surrounded by bird feathers he had collected; distant, detached, and seemingly self-contained, he reminds the authors of Henry Raeburn's famous portrait of an ice skater. This is not just a book about history and it is not simply a study of autism, though together the authors manage to make both intelligible and interesting. More than this it is a deeply compassionate and humane account of the experience of an important and surprisingly common mental condition for those who lived with a sufferer. His devoted mother is central to the book: she 'arranged' a marriage for Hugh so he would have someone to look after him after she died.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hugh Blair, an 18th century landowner, was regarded by those who knew him as an eccentric, a "fool", someone who might today be called "challenged". However, his mother arranged a marriage to the daughter of a surgeon and he had children. His brother then sought to have him declared mentally incapable and disinherit the children. The authors, historian Rab Houston and cognitive scientist Uta Frith, have combined to show what this story reveals about Scottish law and society in that period, and also a retrospective diagnosis of Hugh Blair's condition that led to the court case.

This is a satisfying mixture of academic rigour and human interest. The readership will divide between medical and legal historians and those who will just enjoy a family saga of feuds and sibling rivalry in Scotland.
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By MM on 14 Mar 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book for those who are interested in autism, and those who work with autistic people. Easy and interesting reading.
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