Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gracefully Insane-Alex Beam

Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital-Alex Beam

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 296
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 1996
non fiction

A history of the McLean mental hospital outside of Boston.

I think this book suffers from Beam clearly having a lot of information but no way to really tie it all together. From its blurb, I thought it was going to be a bit more of an architectural treatise. I love architectural treatises and I'm fascinated by the theory behind Kirkbride's architecture. McLean even involves one of my (and everyone else's?) favorite landscape architects, Olmstead! But other than telling us that McLean's grounds were pretty, elaborate, and expensive, Olmstead kind of just popped in and said hello. While we get to hear all of the various stages of building at McLean with other star architects popping in to say hello, there's no real discussion of why the buildings were designed the way they were other than money. So, the other thing that people are intrigued by in terms of mental hospitals is patient treatment. You hear plenty of opinions of generalized treatment such as the disaffected 1970s youths but none of the gritty details people like to read. So what's left? Beam follows the history of the hospital through vague themes but since they are not diachronic, you get a fairly disjointed set of pieces of information. Some administrators get singled out for special notice and some famous patients as well but it felt more like most of those patients were mentioned because some editor said, no, you have to talk about Plath so Beam put it in. The exception is Sexton who gets a detailed and sympathetic profile which you may have expected from the title itself.
But at the end, this book suffered from a lack of engagement through the text.

1 comment:

  1. Please, can I have a chat with you? I am writing about the architecture and the space in particular of such place. I think that you would be of great help since you totally changed my mind about the book!!!