Much more than a mere catalogue of horrors, Scull’s fine book examines a neglected entry point into the unended conflict between reason and emotion, science and superstition.
Madness in Civilization traces the ancient debate between the natural and the supernatural, as evidenced by both the conception and the treatment of “madness” and, more recently, “mental illness.” The name change itself is part of the history Scull elaborates.
Perhaps most poignant are the later chapters, when contemporary and near-contemporary physicians and scientists — who should know better, we believe — fare little better than did medieval exorcists. Shock treatments, experimental drug therapies, involuntary lobotomies, and the wholesale, ideology and budget driven disappearance of public treatment facilities have left too many vulnerable people to wander the streets, or languish in prisons. We may be more modern, but we’re not always more enlightened.
Richly detailed and fully researched, Madness in Civilization is an absorbing and informative book.