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Madness in Civilization

A Cultural History of Insanity from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine

Andrew Scull

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'A brilliant cultural history … a methodical yet always engrossing account of how insanity has been regarded from ancient times to modernity' The Times

Also available as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon


Today, mental disturbance is most commonly viewed through a medical lens, but societies have also sought to make sense of it through religion or the supernatural, or by constructing psychological or social explanations in an effort to tame the demons of unreason. Madness in Civilization traces the long and complex history of this affliction and our attempts to treat it, painting a vivid and often harrowing portrait of the different ways that cultures around the world have interpreted the seemingly irrational, psychotic and insane.

From the Bible to Sigmund Freud, from exorcism to mesmerism, from Bedlam to Victorian asylums, from the theory of humours to modern pharmacology, the book explores the manifestations and meanings of madness and our varied responses to it. It also looks at the profound influence it has had on the arts, from drama, opera and novels to drawing, painting and sculpture.

This is an exceptional and masterful panoramic history of a subject of profound significance to us all.

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'Perhaps the most comprehensive account of the history of psychiatry that has yet appeared in a single volume'
The Times Literary Supplement

'Vast in scope and learning … as illuminating as it is compendious … a magisterial survey'
New Statesman

'A learned, liberally humanitarian and wryly witty account … written with such admirable verve and lucidity'
The Oldie

'To provide a comprehensive narrative of the cultural history of insanity across western and eastern civilizations … would be a daunting task for anyone. That Andrew Scull has achieved this ambitious goal so adeptly is a testament to the depth and breadth of his erudition'
BBC History Magazine

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Further Details


Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.6 cm

Extent: 448 pp

Illustrations: 128

Publication date: 23 March 2015

ISBN: 9780500252123

Contents List

Endorsements; 1. Confronting Madness; 2. Madness in the Ancient World; 3. The Darkness and the Dawn; 4. Melancholie and Madnesse; 5. Madhouses and Mad-Doctors; 6. Nerves and Nervousness; 7. The Great Confinement; 8. Degeneration and Despair; 9. The Demi-Fous; 10. Desperate Remedies; 11. A Meaningful Interlude; 12. A Psychiatric Revolution?

About the Author

Andrew Scull is Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Science Studies, University of California, San Diego. He is the author of many books, including Masters of Bedlam; Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine; and Madness: A Very Short Introduction.