Friday Friyay: Susannah Cahalan's 'The Great Pretender'

I didn't manage to actually hop around much at all last week, which is a shame, but I promise to do better this week.

Let's get started with Book Beginnings at Rose City Reader, hosted by Gilion Dumas, and Friday 56 at Freda's Voice, hosted by Freda. This week I'm featuring the amazing The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan. My review for it went up earlier, it's an amazing deep dive into psychiatry and very well written. 

From "one of America's most courageous young journalists" (NPR) comes a propulsive narrative history investigating the 50-year-old mystery behind a dramatic experiment that changed the course of modern medicine.
For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness-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, normal, 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, very little in this saga is exactly as it seems. What really happened behind those closed asylum doors, and what does it mean for our understanding of mental illness today?
I decided to skip the preface and share the beginning of Chapter 1, 'Mirror Image'. 

'Psychiatry, as a distinct branch of medicine, has come far in its short life span. The field has rejected the shameful practices of the recent past - the lobotomies, forced sterilizations, human warehousing. Today psychiatrists boast a varied arsenal of effective drugs and have largely dropped the unscientific trappings of psychoanalytic psychobabble, the "schizophrenogenic" or "refrigerator" mother of yesteryear who had been blamed for triggering insanity in their offspring. Two decades into the twenty-firs century, psychiatry now recognizes that serious mental illnesses are legitimate brain disorders.' 1%
I know that's quite a lot, but I wanted to share the whole paragraph with you as it kind of sums up a lot of what The Great Pretender discusses, namely how psychiatry has changed, just what was done before, and how the change came about. What this opening doesn't quite show is just how readable Cahalan's writing is.

'When the promises of community care - first championed by JFK - never materialized, thousands of people were turned out from hospitals (where some had spent most of their lives) and had nowhere to go. When Rosenhan conducted his study, 5 percent of people in jail fit the criteria for serious mental illness - now it's 20 percent, or even higher.' 56%

Again, not the most cheerful quote but then this isn't an exactly cheerful topic. Realizing how bad the situation is for many is one of the hard truths of the book, but there is also a lot of hope and faith. 

And finally there is the gem that is Book Blogger Hop, hosted over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

Book Blogger Hop
Do you think that overall work morale would be improved by having a "Book lunch", sponsored by the company at least once a month, or perhaps once a week? (Participation would be voluntary) - Maria @ A Night's Dream of Books

This is such an awesome question! The Women's Society at my company started a Book club about a year ago, which I know isn't quite the same thing as a book lunch, but I still love it. It's not a big group, but we meet once a month and it's lovely connecting with other people at work over something I enjoy so much. (One and the other women in the group and I have actually split off into a second little group called 'Book Snobs' where we discuss books and articles we've read on a more frequent basis.) It has definitely added to my relationship with some of my coworkers, especially when I got my whole team hooked on one of the books we read.

I think it could definitely add as long as it is voluntary and there is no unspoken pressure either. We have a lot of other "social" things at our company like lunches etc. and they can be really fun but can also feel forced.


  1. This seems like a very timely read. Thanks for mentioning it.

  2. I'm an "alone reader" so I wouldn't even participate :P I don't discuss books, maybe because no one reads around me, I'm the only bookworm in the family and among friends so I've never even considering discussing books with others... But nice answer! You have proof that it works for you! I don't know if it will work for me, though. Have a nice weekend ;)

  3. I recall how devastating it was when patients were "turned out from the hospitals," which led to many homeless mentally ill people. But the institutional care was definitely not the answer, either. The book sounds good!

  4. This sounds like a fascinating read. Thanks for sharing! Hope you have a great weekend! :)

  5. I am fascinated by this one. I don't remember hearing about it, but it sounds crazy and intriguing! Happy weekend!

  6. Very informative and interesting sounding book. Hope you enjoy your weekend!

  7. Sounds like it could be an interesting read!

  8. How interesting! I have always really admired Nellie Bly (aka Elizabeth Cochran Seaman) and her investigation into a mental institution during her time. I am sure I would like this story as well. The book club at your office sounds like a lot of fun. I don't think something like that would be too popular in my work place, unfortunately. I have a couple of coworkers who I sometimes talk books with though. I often read during my lunch break. It helps keep me sane. Haha. I hope you have a great weekend!


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