The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

by Susannah Cahalan


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"One of America's most courageous young journalists" and the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Brain on Fire investigates the shocking mystery behind the dramatic experiment that revolutionized modern medicine (NPR).

Doctors have struggled for centuries to define insanity—how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? In search of an answer, in the 1970s a Stanford psychologist named David Rosenhan and seven other people—sane, healthy, well-adjusted members of society—went undercover into asylums around America to test the legitimacy of psychiatry's labels. Forced to remain inside until they'd "proven" themselves sane, all eight emerged with alarming diagnoses and even more troubling stories of their treatment. Rosenhan's watershed study broke open the field of psychiatry, closing down institutions and changing mental health diagnosis forever.

But, as Cahalan's explosive new research shows in this real-life detective story, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781538715284
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 11/05/2019
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 66,274
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Susannah Cahalan is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, a memoir about her struggle with a rare autoimmune disease of the brain. She writes for the New York Post. Her work has also been featured in the New York Times, Scientific American Magazine, Glamour, Psychology Today, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn.

Table of Contents

Preface xv

Part 1

1 Mirror Image 3

2 Nellie Bly 12

3 The Seat of Madness 22

4 On Being Sane in Insane Places 33

5 A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma 42

Part 2

6 The Essence of David 53

7 "Go Slowly, and Perhaps Not at All" 63

8 "I Might Not Be Unmasked" 75

9 Committed 83

10 Nine Days Inside a Madhouse 86

Part 3

11 Getting In 111

12 … And Only the Insane Knew Who Was Sane 122

13 W. Underwood 131

14 Crazy Eights 135

15 Ward 11 148

16 Soul on Ice 156

17 Rosemary Kennedy 162

Part 4

18 The Truth Seeker 173

19 "All Other Questions Follow from That" 182

20 Criterionating 192

21 The SCID 199

Part 5

22 The Footnote 213

23 "It's All in Your Mind" 230

24 Shadow Mental Health Care System 236

25 The Hammer 247

26 An Epidemic 265

27 Moons of Jupiter 279

Epilogue 295

Acknowledgments 301

Reading Group Guide 307

Notes 315

Index 375

Permissions 389

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