'This way madness lies': The Asylum and beyond, with Mike Jay

The history and meaning of 'madness' or mental illness through the perspectives of doctors and patients, social commentators and reformers - and through the remarkable art and architecture of the institution that defined it: the asylum


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The book is timed to accompany the Wellcome Collection's current exhibition, Bedlam - The Asylum & Beyond of which Mike is co-curator.

We live in a time when the asylums - by their name, places for the refuge and reconstruction of torn souls - have mostly closed, but the problem they were designed to confront, mental illness, proliferates as never before, both in terms of individuals affected and diagnosed, and in terms of definition and perception...

Click for Mike's website

Click for Wellcome exhibition website

Combining the perspectives of doctors and patients, artists, social commentators and reformers, Mike will tell the story of the asylum's successive incarnations: the 18th century madhouse, designed to segregate its inmates from society; the 19th century lunatic asylum, which aimed to restore their reason by humane treatment; and the 20th century mental hospital, which reconceived their conditions as diseases of the brain. At the same time it traces the alternatives to the asylum that each era imagined, and often created.

The asylums were closed a generation ago, in the belief that new medical treatments were making them redundant. Today’s marketplace teems with medications and alternative therapies – as the era before the asylum did – yet more people are diagnosed with mental illnesses than ever before and for many there are no satisfactory options. How might we come to terms with these conditions in the future, and can the original ideal of the asylum – a place of refuge and care – still be recovered?

See Mike's Guardian article on art & the Asylum


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Mike Jay

Mike is an author, cultural historian and curator of exhibitions for the Wellcome Centre and Kew Gardens.

His many books and editing projects include High Society, an illustrated global history of drugs, The Influencing Machine, The Atmosphere of Heaven and The Unfortunate Colonel Despard.

See Mike's books here or on his Amazon Author Page.

He reviews regularly for the London Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal and the Literary Review

As a trustee of the Bethlem Art and History Collections Trust, Mike has been involved in developing and designing the Museum of the Mind at the Royal Bethlem Hospital in Beckenham. The Museum was shortlisted for Museum of the Year in 2016.




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John le Carré: 'If you want to know why international crooks and their eminently respectable financial advisors walk tall and only the little people pay taxes, this is the ideal book for you. Every politician and moneyman on the planet should read it, but they won't because it's actually about them.'

2016Martin Keeley