Andrew Scull, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at the University of California, San Diego, is the best historian of psychiatry known to me. He writes elegantly and without jargon, is fair-minded and grinds none of the more obvious axes (mercifully, Michel Foucault’s name does not appear even in the index), has a true writer’s eye for the dramatic detail, and is never dull. I do not recall ever having been disappointed by any of his books, and I was certainly not disappointed by this one.

Desperate Remedies is a history of American psychiatry (which cannot be entirely disentangled from the history of European psychiatry) from the asylum era to the present day. If it sometimes reads a little like a guided tour of a chamber of horrors, that is because the history of psychiatry is indeed replete with horrors. O sanity, what crimes have been committed in thy name!

Though Scull recognizes the great difficulties of dealing with the intractably disturbed in the absence even of tranquilizing drugs, he somewhat underplays these, making the desperate remedies of the title seem even worse than they were. Pre-medical methods of dealing with the chronically mad were not necessarily gentle; in one remote place known to me, the traditional method of dealing with the mad was to tie them to a tree for a few days and then bind them to a log and float them

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