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review 2017-08-17 22:23
No One Cares About Crazy People by Ron Powers
No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America - Ron Powers

This is a deeply emotional book about an important topic, and it seems to have found a large audience (judging by the number of holds at my local library if not the number of ratings on Goodreads). It’s a great idea, alternating between nonfiction chapters about the nature and history of mental illness and a memoir of the author’s family, including two sons with schizophrenia. And as a journalist, the author has an engaging writing style that kept me wanting to read on. It is marred, however, by odd choices in structure and focus. In the end, there is far less about mental illness in it than I expected, and the author’s major policy proposal involves disempowering the very people to whom he claims he wants to give a voice.

The larger part of this book is the nonfiction, much of which is history. The author writes a bit about the spiritual roles often held in traditional societies by people who would today be defined as mentally ill, before discussing the history of asylums (they seem to have started out somewhere between prisons and zoos, to be later reformed in the era of Dorothea Dix and then deteriorate again). And other low points: eugenics (Hitler was all about wiping out mental illness through murder, but the U.S. pioneered forced sterilizations), lobotomies (shudder), and deinstitutionalization (the U.S. closed most of its asylums in the 1960s, resulting in many of the mentally ill winding up on the streets or incarcerated). For no reason I could discern, the chapter about the aftermath of WWII comes after the deinstitutionalization chapter, but it’s otherwise roughly chronological.

Powers’s writing style is engaging, and there is useful information here for those who don’t know much about the topic, but the nonfiction portions could have been much better. When the subject is science – what is schizophrenia, or the link between mental illness and creativity – there’s little actual science and lots of authorial speculation; Powers spends more time detailing debunked theories with emotional appeal for him than laying out the facts. When the subject is history, he has a tendency to go off on tangents at best loosely related to the topic of the book: the eugenics chapter goes into detail on how Darwin came to travel on the Beagle, but neglects to mention that forced sterilization went on in the U.S. until the 1970s.

The chapter on antipsychotics is particularly off-base. I expected this chapter to answer such questions as: how effective are antipsychotics? What is it like to be on them? How have these drugs changed in the sixty-odd years since they first became available? What are their disadvantages? Instead we get a history of the development of the precursors to the first antipsychotic drugs, including biographical details of involved scientists, and then a long catalogue of misdeeds by drug companies, often not related to psychoactive drugs at all. There’s even a discussion of the intricacies of patent law that cause medication to be expensive in the U.S. in the first place, and mention of Bernie Sanders bussing seniors up to Canada to buy cheaper meds. As a piece of journalism it’s fine, but that isn’t why I picked up this book.

The memoir portion is equally marked by odd choices of focus. Three-quarters of it takes place before either of the author’s sons begins showing signs of schizophrenia. I understand the author’s desire to focus on the happy events in their lives, and even his drive to include supportive emails he sent his kids over the years. Perhaps one of his goals was to get readers invested in Dean and Kevin as people rather than seeing them as representatives of an illness. But a good writer could have done that while focusing on the years when they were actually sick (they’re still people, which is supposed to be the author’s point, and they’re hardly psychotic all the time). And this structure winds up giving the impression that life ends with schizophrenia, that everything worth telling in his sons’ lives happened beforehand – even though one of them is alive and apparently doing well.

Again, there’s a lot of authorial speculation and tangents here. He theorizes that his older son, Dean, was moody and withdrawn as a teenager because he was in the early stages of the disease, never mind that Dean’s first psychotic episode seems to have come around age 30. He discusses at length the social and judicial consequences of a car accident when Dean was 17, during which it becomes clear that he has a bone to pick with the other teenager’s family (who previously wrote their own book). Dean’s own opinions are noticeably absent. The author will mention that he never asked how Dean felt about a particular event, or doesn’t know some fact from Dean’s life, leaving me wondering why he didn’t just walk downstairs and ask. Memoirists generally have living, non-estranged family members read their manuscripts and share their memory of events, which could only have improved this book.

Finally, though there’s little discussion of specific policy proposals, Powers advocates throughout the book for parents having increased authority to force treatment on their unwilling adult children. Of course, early diagnosis and treatment is extremely important to health outcomes, and it was clearly agonizing for Powers and his wife to watch Kevin go off his meds, insisting that he’d gotten better. But having recently read a horrifying account of involuntary commitment in another memoir, I’m hesitant to say we should do this more, and concerned by the author’s pooh-poohing of civil liberties concerns. A basic tenet of a free society is that adults get to make their own life decisions, even if their judgment is terrible, as long as they abide by the law. If someone is incompetent, the court can appoint a guardian. Powers apparently believes this option is insufficient because there can be delay (in which case the delay is the problem) and, bafflingly, because this is “not a medical hearing, with psychiatrists, but a judicial hearing, with a judge and lawyers.” Um, yes, this is how government works; it’s called due process of law and why courts exist. There’s nothing stopping psychiatrists from testifying in them.

At any rate, the author doesn’t seem to have thought this proposal through. Does he believe in involuntary treatment only during episodes of acute psychosis, or indefinitely once someone has a diagnosis? His experiences make it seem like the latter. In which case, what diagnoses are sufficient? How long does someone have to be stable to get their rights back? Does he think parents should have this power for life, or only while their children are financially dependent young adults? If the ill person is married, does the spouse get to dictate treatment? Has he considered the ways mental illness already leaves people vulnerable to domestic violence (“you’re crazy, so no one will believe you”) and the long history of inconvenient women forced into mental institutions? It doesn’t appear he’s considered the implications beyond his own pain, and while his experiences are a valid consideration, the inquiry can’t stop there.

So in the end, while there is some good journalistic writing here and I found the book more engaging than a 2-star rating implies, it falls short of the author’s stated goals. He writes in the introduction that he wants reading the book to hurt, and he wants to give a voice to people with mental illness. The book includes a few tragic stories taken from the news, dealing with police shootings and suicide in prison, and certainly his son’s suicide is one of the most tragic events a family can experience. But far more page time is spent on Powers family vacations and why the author hates Thomas Szasz. And I’m confused as to how he believes he’s given anyone a voice when there’s no indication he interviewed anyone with mental illness for the book; even his own surviving son appears to have had no involvement. Raising awareness is good, but this book is too much of the author’s feelings and too little of anything else. What a wasted opportunity.

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review 2017-08-17 20:32
How to be a Victorian
How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life - Ruth Goodman

How to be a Victorian, like Ruth Goodman's How to be a Tudor, which I read in January, is a fine study of a foreign country - in this case the Britain of roughly 150 years ago.

 

It is filled with strange, often horrifying or amusing details. For example, that genteel ladies might want to take exercise, but were deathly afraid of being caught at it.  (Their solution was to either take long walks, with a package under their arm, to suggest *really* being out on a charitable - and thus socially acceptable - errand, or to perform calisthenics, which would not disturb their movable wombs, in fashionable suits in the privacy of their own bedrooms.)  That doctors were not against corsets, but only "tight lacing," which some particularly fashion-obsessed ladies used to reduce their waists to as little as 13 inches.  That a large proportion of the population, most or some of the time, were hungry, and their nutrition was actually made worse by the rise of the Temperance movement.  (The lure of the cities, even of their slums, was that you might eat better than poor in the countryside.  Even if that "better" wasn't very good.)

 

It is also an excellent study of why regulations are a necessary part of society, for the protection of all of us.  We want laws saying we can't be forced by our employers to work 12 or more hours a day.  We want laws mandating safety equipment in factories.  We want laws saying the makers of food and drugs can't lie in advertisements about what's in their products, and sell us watered chalk as milk, and opium as a safe and gentle herbal baby care treatment.  We want laws preventing industrialists from hiring six-year-olds as coal miners.  Because the Victorians had to fight for each and every one of those protections.

 

Let's not forget them, or their achievements.

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review 2017-08-15 16:44
Playful images of animals partaking in big city life grace the walls of a children’s hospital and the pages of “Chicago Unleashed”
Chicago Unleashed - Larry Broutman

Going to the hospital is a scary experience, especially for children. Larry Broutman has used his photography skills to brighten the walls at the Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and brighten the days of young patients. He created cheery and chuckle-inducing photographs for each floor of the hospital by digitally combining the photographs of animals that he had taken on safaris across the world with photographs he had taken of beloved places in his hometown of Chicago.

 

 

His unusual images of wild animals running amok in Chicago were so well-received that Larry Broutman decided to make enough photo mash-ups to fill a book. In Chicago Unleashed, wolves howl at the moon at the Adler Planetarium, hippopotami bathe in the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, a flock of colorful parrots dodge skyscrapers, and many more creatures, large and small, get into mischief at well-known Chicago destinations. Plus, each amusing photograph is supplemented with fun facts about the featured iconic location.

 

 

TO BUY THE BOOK:

 

 

Purchase your copy of Chicago Unleashed at www.everythinggoesmedia.com, Amazon, and at bookstores and gift shops in the greater Chicagoland area.

 

All author proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled, and Access Living.

 

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER/ AUTHOR:

 

 

Larry Broutman is a passionate and accomplished wildlife and landscape photographer and has traveled all over the world to photograph his subjects. He has published his work in magazines such as Africa Geographic and BBC Wildlife. Broutman has completed photographic projects for the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Children’s Memorial Hospital Clinic, and The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. His project for the Lurie Children’s Hospital developed into the publication of Chicago Unleashed.

 

Broutman attended MIT where he received his S.B., S.M., and doctorate degree in the field of Materials Engineering and Science in 1963. Specializing in Polymer Engineering and Science and Composite Materials, Broutman has vast experience writing college textbooks, reference books, and technical articles. In fact, he was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame.

 

 

 

Source: www.everythinggoesmedia.com/product-page/copy-of-chicago-unleashed
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text 2017-08-14 23:53
Martin Edwards Haul
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books - Martin Edwards
The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards
Silent Night: Christmas Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) - Martin Edwards
Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes (British Library Crime Classics) - Martin Edwards,Various Authors
Capital Crimes: London Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) - Martin Edwards,Various Authors
Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) - Martin Edwards,Various Authors

I swear, I really only opened my wishlist to order
"The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books" ... (sigh).

 

 

Oh, wait, that would have been last year.  Now it's more like

 

Yey!!

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review 2017-08-14 22:16
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

I found this to be a painful read especially at this time.  Cora's journey from slavery to escaping it and being recaptured is told through her eyes, with short vignettes through the eyes of others whose lives intersected hers.  I do not understand why there is so much hate based on skin color.  While I hesitated to pick it up, once I did I was compelled to finish it.  The words are powerful as are the actions of many on the question of slavery and life after slavery.

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