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The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in our Times

The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in our Times [Kindle Edition]

Barbara Taylor
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Eloquent, compassionate, and utterly absorbing. A book about family and friendship, about the complexities of memory, about care and the failure of care, The Last Asylum is the best sort of memoir, transcending the purely personal to confront a larger social history. (Sarah Waters)

This superb book combines both the experience of the patient and the eye of the historian. Riveting, insightful and relentlessly honest, it is both social history and memoir, and makes an important contribution to contemporary debates on the treatment of mental distress (Darian Leader)

We believe our response to mental illness is more enlightened, kinder and effective than that of the Victorians who built the asylums. Can we be sure? Barbara Taylor's sombre investigation, calling on personal experience, challenges complacency, exposes shallow thinking, and points out the flaws and dangers of treatment on the cheap. It is a wise, considered and timely book (Hilary Mantel)

Beautiful . . . it is hard to write well enough about this book because it is so good (Susie Orbach Independent)

Moving, brave and intelligent (Susan Hill The Times)

Exquisitely written and provocative (Sunday Times)

Dazzling . . . a tale that compels you to keep turning the pages . . . a great achievement, full of life and hope (Sunday Telegraph)

Product Description

The Last Asylum is Barbara Taylor's journey through mental illness and the psychiatric health care system.

The Last Asylum begins with Barbara Taylor's visit to the innocuously named Princess Park Manor in Friern Barnet, North London -- a picture of luxury and repose. But this is the former site of one of England's most infamous lunatic asylums, the Middlesex County Pauper Lunatic Aslyum at Colney Hatch. At its peak this asylum housed nearly 3,000 patients -- among them, in the 1980s, Barbara Taylor herself.

The Last Asylum is Taylor's powerful account of her battle with mental illness, set inside the wider story of the end of the UK asylum system.

Barbara Taylor's previous books include an award-winning study of nineteenth-century socialist feminism, Eve and the New Jerusalem; an intellectual biography of the pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft; and On Kindness, a defence of fellow feeling co-written with the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. She is a longstanding editor of the leading history journal, History Workshop Journal, and a director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre. She teaches history and English at Queen Mary University of London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and brave book 14 Feb 2014
By CrazyCyclist TOP 500 REVIEWER
The author, Barbara Taylor, spent 8 months in what was called Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum (which later had a name change to Friern Hospital).

This is the amazingly well told, brave and interesting story of Barbara Taylor. The story of a woman who is a historian, and a published academic, She progressively became unwell and what started out as anxiety morphed into complete breakdown. She had a couple of decades of treatment which included psychoanalysis and her stay in what was called at that time, the Asylum. Her story makes the reader really feel for her. She goes to show that anyone can suffer from mental health problems from whatever background.

Behind her story is a solid history of mental health and the mental health care system. She integrates her own treatment into this history and puts it into context.

The really incredible part of this book is the honesty with which she talks of her story. It is told with such honesty and as a reader I felt touched and honoured to be able to read her account. In places, the book made me feel emotional. There are not many books about that do this to me.

Thank you Barbara Taylor for writing this book.

Highly recommended.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
After reading Jenny Diski's review in the LBR and for reasons of my own I was interested to read this book and was not disappointed. Compelling because although harrowing to read it is beautifully written, It is about Barbara Taylor's own hellish journey through extreme mental illness (she calls them her madness years), her psychotherapy,and her years as a mental patient at Friern, but it is also a historical meditation on mental illness and mental health care in Britain in that period.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an exceptional book. 2 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
This is an exceptional book. Barbara Taylor experienced a long period when she needed help with her mental condition. She describes very movingly her relationship with her long-suffering therapist, and her experience of being in the asylum- her nuthouse and in various levels of care.
She also gives us the history of the way mental health patients have been treated over a long period. And finally the impact of current policies. Highly recommended.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The necessity for asylum 21 Feb 2014
This book has really struck a chord with me. It resonates with my life experience from 3 angles. I trained as a psychiatric nurse in the 80's during the time of the author's experience. I also have training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy which, as well as professional study, demanded my own "lying on the couch" twice per week over several years to try and suss out my own demons, as has the author but in a way that only good writing can portray.
This book therefore pulled out many memories for me, and the writing sings. I feel it has been written beautifully, and with my own history, it will stay with me. I have just also finished listening to the final episode from Radio 4's adaptation for Book of the Week. As well as being engaged with the reading of it by Maggie Steed, there is the added dimension of today's politics that I feel enraged by. Whatever politicians say, mental health services are being decimated whole scale. I know, because I have witnessed the whole sorry episode from that point of readily accessible asylum, to the very poor community and inpatient services of today. Needless to say, my disillusionment fits in wholeheartedly with the author's conclusions.

I thoroughly recommend this book, and a must read for anyone presently in the mental health services who may have a jaundiced and cynical eye as to the function of the Victorian Asylums, which are now all destroyed. In other words, don't be seduced by modern day political diktat as to what is the best service for those of us who will inevitably have mental health problems.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very worthwhile read 15 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
An interesting and informative book that deserves a place in the literature recording the history of the treatment of mental illness. In particular the Epilogue contains the best summary I have seen of the current failures in treatment modalities offered in the UK under the guise of IAPT; a succint and perceptive view by Barbara Taylor throwing light on some of the many difficulties facing practitioners and patients alike in these times of 'austerity'.
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3.0 out of 5 stars "The Last Asylum" 13 April 2014
By Gwen
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
REVIEW OF 'The last asylum'

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5.0 out of 5 stars Inside misery, looking out 3 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
An indispensable account of living with mental and emotional disturbance, and of being held with this until able to choose to live. Taylor describes just how important and toxic large institutions were. One of the many impressive features of her account is her description of the 20 years of psychoanalysis that kept her going and held hope for her when she could not even glimpse this herself. This is an object lesson in how poorly mental health 'care' offers help with the very profound 'basic faults' that underlie what is seen as major mental illness.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Asylum : A memoir of Madness 28 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
"The last asylum:a memoir of madness" moved me to the core. It manages to combine two very different and yet experientially overlapping stories - Barbara Taylors own long,often terrifying therapeutic journey through breakdown, not to recover herself but to discover and create her self : and the story of the age of the asylums in this country, again through experiential witnessing of one of the biggest of those asylums as it moved towards closure, and its replacement by a mental health care in the community which is a ghostly shell of what it claims to be, now. My journey as a mental health worker and psychotherapist began at that hospital, and, all these years later I am sadly aware of the paltry lack of care in the community by those of us disturbed depressed and sometimes disintegrated by our harsh competitive and sometimes brutal social environments.Barbara Taylor survived and her brave testimony should be read by all those who care about their fellow citizens, and our shared vulnerability as human beings.
Les Parsons
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent review of the psychoanalytic process
A very honest and even funny account of a very difficult subject-mental health and the need for care. Barbara Taylor is a great writer.
Published 27 days ago by SpMoce
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is well written and the author describes her experiences of psychiatric hospital with clarity and some wit. Read more
Published 28 days ago by con buckley
5.0 out of 5 stars the loss of asylum
Excellent combination of one woman's personal journey and a brief synopsis of the history and current perspective of how we have viewed and treated madness.
Published 1 month ago by R. A. Chandler
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read
A fascinating insight into 'madness', psychoanalysis, and the care of people with mental health issues. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rachel Sawbridge
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good read as well as instructive
An extraordinary description of descent into madness, very moving and exceptionally well written. I could almost smell the asylum. Read more
Published 1 month ago by grannyhi
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok but leaves many unanswered questions
a detailed account of experience in a mental hospital in the 80s but I expected to learn labour why the author became ill and what she learned about herself and how her... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Karen
3.0 out of 5 stars smoke and mirrors
i don't think the writer is fair on the reader. The suffering is relentlessly relived. It's only natural that the reader should expect a description of her new life. Read more
Published 1 month ago by J. Vickers
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