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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Herbert M. Swick, MD (Institute of Medicine and Humanities)
Description: This slim volume is a compilation of photographs, with limited text, published to mark the sesquicentennial of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). One of the authors is a librarian and archivist for the APA, and the other is a freelance photographer.
Purpose: This book purports to provide a portrait of individuals with mental illness and the care they received, focusing on the past 150 years. It is meant to be neither a scholarly history nor a record of medical advances in psychiatry.
Audience: The intended audience is unclear. Mental health care workers will find the book incomplete, and the lay public may be misled by some of the book's assertions.
Features: This photographic history consists primarily of photographs of American mental hospitals as well as earlier illustrations from European sources. Virtually all hospitals shown are from eastern states, with very few from the midwest and only one from the west coast. In some instances, there are multiple similar views of a single institution. Conversely, there are significant omissions.
Assessment: The book has a laudable intent and an interesting approach, but it misses the mark. It whets the appetite, but does not satisfy. A number of careless mistakes detract from the potential value of the book. For example, one figure legend refers to books from the 17th and 18th centuries, but the illustrations themselves are of books published as early as 1514 and as late as 1827. The photographs vary widely in quality, and most are not dated, which would have been helpful in giving a sense of time. The brief text employs broad generalizations without documentation. For example, the authors assert that in the late 18th century, those who cared for the mentally ill "delighted in tormenting them," which sometimes may have been true, but which was certainly not universal.