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October 1, 1997

Wild Beasts and Idle Humours: The Insanity Defense From Antiquity to the Present

Author Affiliations

Henry Ford Health System Detroit, Mich

JAMA. 1997;278(13):1122-1123. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550130096049

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


This book chronicles a journey through the last several thousand years of the history of madness-as-exculpatory. The text, though rewarding, is difficult reading for those of us (physicians) used to reading medical texts, journal articles, and the like—reading assisted by subheadings, summary, linear narrative, simple declarative sentences, and an ability to complete a text of a few hundred pages in several long sessions.

The reader will find the text erudite but perhaps a bit difficult. It contains a wealth of detail, references to authors and sources unknown to many of us, side treks into several related fields (such as philosophy), contextual information, and fascinating quotations from primary historical sources. In the end, to string the author's pearls onto a necklace, I had to read the book twice.

Robinson provides an understanding of the concept of the person and of human nature in Greek, Roman, and Christian times as the context