Shop now Shop now Shop now Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Listen with Prime Pre-order now Shop Men's Shop Women's

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£8.83+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 29 May 2010
This has been hovering on my radar for a while and on my wishlist for months, so when I spotted it in the library I had to pick it up. It's a terrifying book but I am so glad to have read it. As the title suggests, it is predominantly a history of the Bethlehem asylum in London, soon contracted to 'Bedlam' in local slang and quickly fixing the term in our language as a byword for chaos.

Bedlam's history is a horrifying tale swimming with chains and straitjackets, ice baths and purging, bleeding and starvation, mania and despair. Arnold draws the reader through the years from Bedlam's conception, into different locations and grand buildings, through the reigns of monarch after monarch. Doctors and superintendents come and go, treatments fluctuate and metamorphose, knowledge grows and changes for the better... eventually. Through the sweep of Bedlam's history, Arnold has included the stories of some of the saddest, quirkiest and most notorious patients to haunt its cells, as well as extending her research to offer the reader a wider historical context and a broader look at the treatment of madness across the country. There is also an interesting chapter on mad women as a cultural construct, including a look at Miss Havisham and Bertha Mason as literary representations of contemporary stereotypes.

As a manic depressive, all I can say is, thank heavens I'm not living my life any time but now. Right up the mid-20th century, people suffering from mental illness have been 'treated' with a host of remedies from the ridiculous to the barbaric to, just occasionally, the hopeful and enlightened. I found this book by turns sad, wry, mind-boggling, thoughtful and plain horrific. I feel like I've come away from it having been educated and enlightened, not to mention harbouring a profound feeling of gratefulness that today's medicine has, for the most part, finally rejected the attitudes and approaches to mental illness that made elements of this book so painful to read. Highly recommended!
11 comment| 50 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 April 2011
A very readable book. However, I got the sense the author really rushed the last chapter and didnt really explain why the hospital moved to Kent in the early 20th century. Instead this last chapter was a rather rambling account of the author's opinion on modern psychiatric medicine. Also there were a couple of historical inaccuracies. An example of this is when the author talks about Moss Side Military Hospital. The author makes the error of assuming this hospital was located in Moss Side in Manchester. This is incorrect, Moss Side Hospital was located at Moss Side in Maghull which is just outside of Liverpool. This makes the reader wonder what else is incorrect in the book? However, a very entertaining read with great use of illustrations.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 4 January 2011
The book does have a large ambition as other reviewers have stated. It was a very interesting novel though I found Necropolis by the author a much more interesting read and put together in a more interesting way. My main difficulty with this text was perhaps that the cases referred to on the back cover were covered in no real depth in the text itself. There were brief references to individual cases and miscarriages of justice and more detail spent on the doctors that governed the institution itself as well as the architecture of the different locations for Bedlam.

For those interested in the history of this period it is a good read, even with the context of the book in the details surrounding Bedlam at this time.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 16 November 2011
This disturbing and gripping book delves into the history of Bedlam. A place which has given it's very name to the dictionaries as meaning noisy and confused. The book follows the hospital's history from it's beginning as the Bethlehem hospital in 1247 to the relocation in the suburbs of Kent . A truly fascinating look at the early care of the mentally ill patient.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 21 May 2012
I've sent this back for a refund as it's missing the images from the printed version. Where an image should appear, the words "Image Not Available" appear.

As far as the content goes, I found the book (what I read of it before getting annoyed by the lack of images)quite readable, but with too many "might haves" in it. For example, Shakespeare "may have" been inspired by a visit to Bedlam. Anne Boleyn "may well have" taken a walk in the grounds. It's all pure speculation, and while I understand it's an attempt to contextualise the time frames being written about, I found this unfounded guesswork quite irritating.

Anyway, like I said, my main issue is specifically with the Kindle edition. It's more expensive than the print edition, yet is missing all of the images. It might seem like a minor fault, but this should be pointed out before people buy the product. Frankly, I refuse to pay more for less.
0Comment| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 28 June 2012
I found this a thoughtful history of the treatment of those considered mad by society. It was given structure by focusing on London and its most famous asylum.
It did a grand job of packing a lot into a relatively small volume. We read about social norms, politics, philosophy and medicine and how each impacted on the work of the asylum. Of course the case histories of some of the inmates are the most moving and informative parts of the book, but the author manages not to sensationalise or sentimentalise them.
She is also not too judgemental about the past treatments of residents. Each era is set in the context of attitudes and medical practice of the time.The last chapter could have said more, as sadly mental health services are not in a state of improvement, but maybe this was outside the remit of this particular book.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 17 April 2009
Bedlam was the original cockney name for Bethlem Hospital, a "refuge" for lunatics; the inhabitants have made bedlam a dictionary word. This book sprints through the history of the complex with the hysteria of many of its patients. Many of the characters receive their "fifteen minutes of fame" precisely because of the fleeting existence they had.

Famous -or infamous as the case may be- inmates included the painter Richard Dadd, who killed his dad and Margaret Nicholson who tried to kill a King; at the time she was insane and King George III was in one of his sane periods. The author relates these tales and many others with relish. Writing about madness in all its forms is the basis for this book and the narrative enthusiastically writhes forward.

Of course there are lurid adventures - for example the madmen who cut off their penises- and Catherine Arnold exposes the dubious mental health doctors of old tying the naked wretches to straw beds alongside various other more violent remedies. One chapter is devoted to crazy women and their poor woes, some of these hatless females had their heads blistered. Latin might not have been a dead language when Bethlem was in its early throes but the quacks didn't adhere to Primum Non Nocere.

Medicine may have advanced and the understanding of mental illness more humane, the problem of fascination with psychotic people still thrives today. Freak shows and serial killers receive far greater newsprint than good luck stories. At least today's asylums don't have an open day when the public can visit and laugh at the idiot's misfortune, as recounted in this volume.

This is a quick read and for those with short attention spans; it's ideal. We surge through the centuries like the Gordon rioters hell bent on razing London. Go on; give it a butcher's hook.
11 comment| 19 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 24 February 2010
An interesting and well researched read on the notorious hospital and it's history.
Well written and you will learn plenty of facts you may have been unaware of.

An intriguing piece of London's history.
0Comment| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 10 October 2008
This book's downfall, I think, is its huge ambition. From 1247 to the present falls within its remit. I think for such a slim volume that is asking too much. The result is a mind-boggling cast of characters who have no sooner been introduced and allotted their fifteen seconds of fame than they are tossed aside to make way for the next person. It just becomes a little confusing.

I think there should have been more illustrations, too. Speaking of illustrations, in the maps provided why isn't Bethlem circled or in some other way indicated? I scoured them in my search and am not sure if I pinned it down.

The chronology progresses generally speaking as one would expect in a work of history (i.e. from the beginning to the end) but it also has the irritating habit of quite regularly leaping forwards and backwards centuries at a time. This is because Arnold struggles to contain the narrative either within a straightforward chronological order or when she digresses into self-contained related topics and the biographies of the various doctors and patients. The narrative needs to reconcile the different strands more satisfactorily.

However, having started off with some negative points I will admit that this is an interesting story, albeit probably despite the author's efforts rather than because of them. I never really felt that there was a common thread running through this book tying everything together. It felt disjointed. I also struggled to understand many parts of the book initially because of the author letting the people she writes about tell the story in their own words. It's often not easy to understand the historical dialects and peculiarities of writing and a translation isn't always provided.

This is a good book to read, though, if you have any experience of the mental health system yourself. I imagine. I think that to be told that only the thoughtful and the sensitive succumb to madness and that insanity has no respect for wealth or social status, afflicting rich and poor and high and low alike, is quite reassuring. Also, to be reminded that mental health problems are as old as humanity itself (or since 1247, at any rate) is pleasing and comforting too. Relief at living in this century is another emotion brought on my reading this.

Also, I was troubled by the amount of poetry quoted in this book. A fine example is the truly awful doggerel by John Keats that concludes the whole book. "Ode on Melancholy" is just abysmal. Is it supposed to be ironic? I tend not to like authors, especially historians, who indulge their enthusiasm for literature, and especially poetry, in their books. I think it is distracting and frustrating to repeatedly come across a block of meaningless (it's mostly only semi-fathomable and lacking literal meaning) verse in a non-fiction book and to necessarily feel obliged to stop to begin the arduous task of teasing out from it some sense.

It breaks up the flow and invariably makes one feel a failure for struggling with it. I didn't pick up a history (or history of medicine) book to read and critique poetry and I resent the fact that I am expected to do this. I've noticed that quite a few scientists and historians do this. I think authors should exercise some self-control and restraint in not being tempted to try to convert their readers to one of their pet hobbies or enthusiasms.

But, rant aside, and to draw this review to a close with indecent haste, I would still say this book is worth a look.
1212 comments| 20 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 14 July 2016
A short paperback book, which is, in my opinion, slightly misnamed. The history of the Bethlem Royal Hospital is there; but it goes and comes and is frequently interspersed by wide-ranging debates on madness, personalities and different historical times, often not related to Bethlem or London at all.

Bedlam's brief history clearly includes stories of segregation, straitjackets, ice baths and purging, bleeding and mis-treatment; all fairly consistent with the popular historical conception and practice of 'madness' at the time. Arnold is a skilled author and I've previously enjoyed her work and in fairness - she starts with a disclaimer - if your looking for a 'true'-history of Bethlem you'll be disappointed here. She presents, in relatively sketchy detail, the Bedlam's conception, its buildings, it's Doctors and a succession of previously well described ex-patients and various psychiatric techniques and practitioners.

Its an easy read about a difficult subject. However, like a lot of people, I was left wanting more - on three occasions she starts a 'what you would have seen on a walk through' type-technique - she starts, but almost immediately stops. The other technique that she draws upon is that 'Bethlem was evil', while 'everywhere else was (more) enlightened' - which I don't think is an accurate analysis. There are some interesting accounts of important unrelated developments - like the treatment of syphilis and 'shell shock', etc. Its more of a wide ranging romp through selective aspects of psychiatry rather than the history of a hospital or city. Also, it is selective - the crazy celebrities and the notorious evil doctors - the voice of the patient who improves and the compassionate carers, nurses, doctors are lost. The daily experience of thousands of people is not there. Also the description of the current Bethlem Royal Hospital with its innovative, caring and compassionate care for people of all ages in distress and despair is just not mentioned - which is a shame, this would have been a good way to conclude.

A good easy, well written and well researched little book, but with limitations.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)