This is an excellent, thorough biography about a very enigmatic person, Scottish psychoanalyst R.D. Laing. Laing, having been raised in a family with a mentally ill mother and inattentive father, showed exceptional skill in communicating with people labeled schizophrenic. He seemed able to access them with a compassion rarely shown by his colleagues, who tended to be more interested in exerting power over them, an ultimately unsuccessful way to get along with others whether they're schizophrenic or not. Yet Laing was also a very angry man, often prone to being abusive, not only toward his colleagues, family and friends, but sometimes toward his patients, who in the end he admitted resenting because they filled his life with their misery.
Laing was an icon for many who were struggling with society's expectations and trying to figure out how they fit in the world, and was especially popular with college students. People labeled schizophrenic followed him around as though he was the Pied Piper.
Laing helped create treatment centers for people labeled schizophrenic where they were treated like people, not looked down on as defective inferiors. To great extent, most of these places were much more successful treating these people, as shown by lack of recidivism. (Soteria House in San Jose, California, which was ultimately closed after staff allowed violence resulting in death of two persons in a misguided, if not psychotic, effort to put Laing's theories into practice, remains the exception.)
R.D. Laing came up with a revolutionary theory that love of a parent was an ultimately destructive force that stole the self from a child. He seems to have viewed the world in the most negative of terms. He himself suffered one bad marriage after the other, and had a lot of problems dealing with his own children, some of whom grew up despising him.
For Laing, love was something he desperately wanted, yet feared. He drove those who loved him away from him by behaving abusively toward them. He seemed unwilling to accept the fact that humans are imperfect, and rejected them for their imperfections. Their love, to him, was always tainted with poison that could destroy his perhaps very fragile sense of self.
In the end, he killed himself in a way. He knew he had heart trouble and played tennis as hard as he could until he had a heart attack and quickly died.
Laing is a fascinating character, a creative destroyer, a man of contradictions. He started an important revolution in psychiatry. He was brilliant but tortured, full of anger and perhaps rage as well.
This book is well worth reading, and exceptionally honest and well done.