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The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in our Times by [Taylor, Barbara]
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The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in our Times Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 64 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)

Powerful (Guardian)

About the Author

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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1178 KB
  • Print Length: 283 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (6 Feb. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00ED6HLT0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #143,639 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By CycleRacing HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 14 Feb. 2014
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover 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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Historian and writer Barbara Taylor’s The Last Asylum is partly an objective analysis of mental healthcare provision from the early provision of ‘places of asylum’ and/or places of incarceration, to the more recent dismantling of long stay psychiatric hospitals in favour of ‘Care In The Community’ . Asylum provision itself, which, at its best can provide a place of safety and community for the vulnerable, can at its worst also be a dumping ground for all kinds of people with mental, emotional or behavioural ‘difficulties’ which are perceived as outside society norms. And moreover can be a place where the lost, confused, furious, terrified or despairing can be treated brutally and abusively

“History’s verdict has yet to be delivered, and it is possible that the judgment will be more favourable to the old asylums, at least in some respects, than psychiatric modernizers would like us to believe”

Closing asylums, however, has been far from an unalloyed blessing. The change in the way psychological dis-ease has been dealt with was not a move done with completely pure, outcome driven intent. Cost was a huge driver. Like asylums themselves, and how patients fared within them, ‘Care In The Community’ as a concept is hugely variable on the ground, as Taylor, explains. At its best, people are supported back into community by skilled case workers, with provision for sheltered housing, day centres, and a wealth of trainings. Unfortunately the ‘at its best’ is a rare beast in times of austerity, and in the aftermath of Thatcher’s ‘There is no such thing as Society’ ethos, the vulnerable may find themselves with little care, and outside any community.

“Anthony Bateman summarized the situation to me : “The relational, pastoral component of mental health care has been eliminated.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I thought this was a work of art. I thought I had already reviewed it and it was a while ago that I read it, but I remember thinking what a good writer this author is and also how lucky she was to have long-term psychotherapy, which seemed to me to have led her to a great understanding of herself and of life generally. However, from this reading psychotherapy sounded like a much more gruelling and painful process than I had ever previously imagined!
Louise Gillett
author of Surviving Schizophrenia, a Memoir
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