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July 17, 1996

Madness in America: Cultural and Medical Perceptions of Mental Illness Before 1914

Author Affiliations

University of California, San Francisco

JAMA. 1996;276(3):251-252. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540030085039

In this beautifully illustrated and welldocumented volume, Gamwell and Tomes lead the reader on a tour of past ideas about madness in America. The format of the book—partly an exhibition catalogue and partly a collection of historical vignettes—reflects the unusual collaborative effort of its authors who represent, respectively, the professions of museum curator and medical historian.

The book begins with a Navajo night chant rug, used in the cure of an unstable person (someone who "acted like a moth," in the native language), and ends with a photograph of Sigmund Freud at Clark University in 1909, on the occasion of his only visit to the United States. In between, we encounter a number of items that date from Colonial times until the first World War. Some of these were produced by the medical community and other authorities: a broad array of artifacts used in the treatment of mental illness, such