28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This review is from: Madness: A Brief History (Hardcover)
This was a brave attempt, which almost succeeded. Prof. Porter has written a short, lucid account of a problematic, complicated subject. This is to be commended. Unfortunately, neither the brevity nor the structure of this book does justice to its scope and potential. The chapter headings each cover an aspect of madness over history; thus we are given a brief overview of attitudes to the mad, the diagnosis of insanity, views of its causes and cures, etc, from Mesopotamia through Hippocrates and Galen, with a glance at the middle ages, to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Romantics and the Victorians, finally winding up in the 20th century, with Freud and psychoanalytical theories. As a Classicist, with knowledge of the history of Greek medicine, I was able to judge the quality of his comments on the Greeks, which sometimes seemed simplified to the point of distortion. However, the book is freshly written and always interesting. I particularly enjoyed his assessment of the social history of madness (in which he takes Foucault to task wonderfully). He never lapses into jargon,and difficulties are always explained with clarity. One can't help but wondering, however, why OUP decided on this small (if beautifuly produced) format for an author whose long history of medicine was such a great success.