Madness in Civilization Book Summary - Madness in Civilization Book explained in key points
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Madness in Civilization summary

Andrew Scull

A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine

4.2 (33 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

'Madness in Civilization' by Andrew Scull is a historical exploration of how Western civilization has dealt with mental illness, from the Middle Ages to modern times.

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    Madness in Civilization
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    Madness has been thought to originate in the divine or in the human body itself.

    How has madness been viewed and treated throughout history? In order to answer that broad question, we need to start with some definitions. What exactly is “madness”?

    The author defines madness as “a lasting and massive disturbance of intellect, reason and emotion.” It’s a term that’s been used to characterize many different types of mental illnesses, conditions that include depression, mania or hallucinations.

    Over the course of history, the causes of madness have been hotly debated. One of the central questions was whether it came from within or had an external origin.

    In the Judeo-Christian tradition, madness was seen as a God-induced punishment.

    The Bible tells us the story of King Saul. He was punished by God for disobeying divine orders to eradicate the rival Amalekite tribe. God punished Saul by casting madness upon him.

    There was, though, another aspect to Saul’s divinely-induced madness. It was said that he obtained prophetic qualities through it. In fact, his ravings were interpreted as prophecies from God.

    He wasn’t the only prophet to have had a close association with madness. What might have been treated later in history was seen then in a different light. For instance, “mad” Jeremiah was said to have prophesied the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem.

    The Greeks and Romans, conversely, saw madness as coming from within and had scientific theories about its causes.

    The Hippocratic corpus of medical writings preferred to identify more naturalistic and physical causes for madness. The body was thought to consist of four “humors”: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. When these elements were balanced, a person was thought to be mentally and physically healthy.

    However, when unbalanced in the body, these humors could lead to the onset of madness.

    Greek and Roman doctors therefore treated mental illness by attempting to balance the humors. Exercise or a change of diet were thought to assist in achieving equilibrium.

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    What is Madness in Civilization about?

    Madness in Civilization (2015) examines the fascinating and often disturbing history of how people with mental illness were categorized as “mad” and pushed to the fringes of society. It traces the history of “madness” from the biblical story of King Saul to the modern classifications of mental illness and how it’s now categorized and treated.

    Madness in Civilization Review

    Madness in Civilization (2015) explores the intricate relationship between madness and culture throughout history, making it an enlightening and thought-provoking read. Here are three reasons why this book stands out:

    • Through wide-ranging research and compelling case studies, it offers a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of how different societies have perceived and treated madness.
    • By examining the intersection of madness and art, literature, and medicine, the book sheds light on the profound impact that mental illness has had on human creativity and innovation.
    • With its engaging storytelling and insightful analysis, the book challenges conventional views and invites readers to reconsider their understanding of madness and its place in society.

    Who should read Madness in Civilization?

    • History buffs
    • Students of medicine
    • People who want to understand the history of mental illness

    About the Author

    Andrew Scull is a British sociologist who focuses on medicine and psychiatry. He is currently Professor of Sociology and Science Studies at University of California, San Diego. He also wrote Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine.

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    Madness in Civilization FAQs 

    What is the main message of Madness in Civilization?

    Madness in Civilization explores the complex history of mental illness and challenges our understanding of madness.

    How long does it take to read Madness in Civilization?

    The reading time for Madness in Civilization varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Madness in Civilization a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Madness in Civilization is worth reading for its insightful exploration of mental illness throughout history.

    Who is the author of Madness in Civilization?

    Madness in Civilization is written by Andrew Scull.

    What to read after Madness in Civilization?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Madness in Civilization, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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