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5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling read, 26 Dec 2011
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This review is from: Autism in History: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue (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. A more shadowy figure is his far-from-sympathetic brother, who challenged the marriage in order to gain control over Hugh's inheritance. Others could be cruel to Hugh, but the authors stress the dynamics of family life and the place of the community in making it possible for him to lead as normal a life as possible. The only thing I longed for at the end was Hugh's own voice. Unfortunately he hardly ever spoke and then in phrases of two or three words; he could write, but only copying and never composition. But this silence is no fault of Houston and Frith. I cannot recommend this book too highly. In fact I'm amazed it has not been made into a film.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A challenged man, 18 July 2013
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This review is from: Autism in History: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue (Paperback)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Autism and history, 14 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Autism in History: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue (Paperback)
Great book for those who are interested in autism, and those who work with autistic people. Easy and interesting reading.
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Autism in History: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue
Autism in History: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue by Uta Frith (Paperback - 17 Sep 2000)
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