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Book and Media Reviews
September 27, 2006

Psychiatry, History

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2006;296(12):1528-1533. doi:10.1001/jama.296.12.1529

Ten years in the making, Akihito Suzuki's new book has been well worth the wait. It presents an original perspective on the much studied and much contested subject of lunacy in 19th-century England and forces us to think again about what we thought we knew of the period.

Unlike most studies, which have focused on the asylum, Suzuki concentrates on what happened beyond the institutional walls, in particular how Victorian families responded when one of their members became disturbed. Suzuki proves a courteous and fair-minded guide to the field, and he is generous to other scholars. Not for him gleeful denunciations of the mistaken assumptions of previous historians; rather, he shows in a gentle and understated manner how his sources undermine certain received opinions.