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History of Madness Hardcover – August 18, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


'Scarcely any philosopher working on the history of philosophy, or historian working on the history of institutions, social science or sexuality can avoid confronting the challenge of Foucault's books.' – Michael Ignatieff, Times Literary Supplement

'Without a shadow of a doubt, the most original, influential and controversial text in this field during the last forty years. It remains as challenging now as on first publication. Its insights have still not been fully appreciated and absorbed.' – Roy Porter

'Extraordinary … rich and insistent, and almost unreasonable in its necessary repetitions.' – Maurice Blanchot

About the Author

Michel Foucault (1926-84). Celebrated French thinker and activist who challenged people's assumptions about care of the mentally ill, gay rights, prisons, the police and welfare.

Jean Khalfa is a lecturer in French at Cambridge University, UK.

Jonathan Murphy is an experienced translator, editor and lecturer.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 776 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (August 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415277019
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415277013
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #455,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

One of the leading intellectuals of the twentieth century and the most prominent thinker in post-war France, Foucault's work influenced disciplines as diverse as history, sociology, philosophy, sociology and literary criticism.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French historian and philosopher associated with the structuralist and poststructuralist movements. He is often considered the most influential social theorist of the second half of the twentieth century, not only in philosophy but in a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Among his most notable books are Madness and Civilization, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Michael C. Stephens on September 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
First time the full text of Michel Foucault's "History of Madness" has been available in English. The abridged version, "Madness and Civilization", produced some notable misinterpretations and came to be viewed as an apologia for the anti-psychiatry movement of R.D. Laing and others. Although Foucault is no friend of the psychiatric establishment, and has denounced psychiatry as a pseudo science (with more depth and subtlety than Tom Cruise), The History of Madness is much more than a denunciation of psychiatry as a tool of normalization.

Foucault shows how the idea of madness from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to the present, has undergone several transformations of meaning. For Foucault, the way in which each historical phase interprets insanity is always an essential key to understanding that phase's entire value system. The projection of the idea of madness on the other allows society to carve out its idea of itself as sane.

In the Renaissance, the mad were often viewed ambiguously as the potential possessors of higher truth (as in King Lear) while the sane could be victims of their own severely limited ideas, and slaves to custom and tradition. The upside-down night-world of A Midsummer Nights Dream and other renaissance fantasies reminds us that madness and sanity could engage in creative interchange. The bastions of world order in those days were hereditary inheritors holders of power, but not yet self-made lords of reason. Even the greatest earthly power was over-ruled by the higher reality of God and Satan and the supernatural realm was inherently a miraulous, magical world, a realm above and beyond earthly reason.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Steiner VINE VOICE on March 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
At last the complete version of Foucault's great 'History of Madness' has been released in English. This very fine translation offers a higher degree of clarity and accuracy than the Vintage edition, and it also provides more comprehensive endnotes and Foucault's rejoinder to Derrida's 'Cogito and the History of Madness.' However, Routledge is once again guilty of producing a great and beautiful book but leaving a number of typos in. I don't know if they rush these volumes through production too quickly but it seems to be a recurring volume. In any case, 'The History of Madness' is one of the great works of historical philosophy of the last century. Foucault traces the transmutations and interpretations of insanity from the Dark Ages through the Classical Age and all the way up to modernity with the advent of psychoanalysis. You will never be able to understand the nature of our understanding of insanity without until you have followed Foucault's multi layered analysis. Truly a marvelous book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Rubard on April 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Michel Foucault's first book should be a real treat, for those interested in modern theory and (as previously mentioned in another review) for those with a psychiatric history of their own. I say "should be": although Foucault is usually reckoned as attempting to tackle social facticity without any support from either dominant or "liberatory" ideologies, Habermas' charge that he was "crypto-normative" rings oddly true in the case of this work. *History of Madness* is itself an effort in the early-modern genre it chronicles, that of providing a definition for mental illness that explains exactly what is objectionable about the conduct of the alienated from the standpoint of reason, rather than merely explaining their unreason in terms of an undifferentiated objectionability.

And "unreason" is a key word for Foucault's project, as is ably explained in Ian Hacking's introduction. Rather than import the diagnostic categories of contemporary psychiatry back into the Classical age, Foucault explains why the practical failure of persons to integrate themselves into modern social life -- which rather obviously has economic and political dimensions -- became "unreason", a failing which compelled modernizing authorities to regiment the "afflicted" in workhouses and *hopitals* quite unlike hospitals rather than treat them in a medical fashion. Rather than a strict critique of psychiatry, Foucault's analysis is a window onto the social struggles which constitute mental illness as something to be combated in the first place, rather than as poorly-calibrated religiosity or aesthetic sentiment.

Although it is true that Routledge seems not to have weathered the changeover to electronic publishing very well, they should be commended for making this great historico-philosophical work available to an English-speaking audience in its entirety.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alex on June 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
The book is not, and should not, be of interest to everyone. On one hand Focault's basic thesis is worthy of consideration. It was quite predictable. Even though I was not familiar with him or his ideas, I immediately suspected that he would argue for some sort of relativism. There is no doubt that what constitutes mental illness is largely the result of popular consensus and "expert opinion." As a history it is a excellent, as a work of theory, it is also engaging. In the few pieces of pure theory I have perused I've found baseless hypothesis supported by hopelessly illogical arguments cloaked in impenetrably confusing jargon. This book, on the other hand, is quite accessible, in spite of being translated from French. While his basic contention is very hard to refute, I find it impossible to completely agree with it. The exploration of how industrial societies produce neuroses and/or do not accept neurotics is beyond the scope of this review---but there are many factors that go into the development of mental illness. Focault focuses only on one of them in this book.

Focault chronicles the evolution of Western's civilization's conception of madness, which may not be the most interesting topic. The antiquated paradigms of science are of interest only to historians of science; most of us want only the cutting-edge. Yet, there is some benefit to exploring outmoded means of thinking; sometimes there is virtue in their reasoning, even if their conclusions, or explanations for their conclusions, are wrong. The book has a few wonderful stories. My favorite is about the inmate who was able to withstand incredibly bitter winters without clothes, blankets or heat sources. It nicely illustrates the power of the mind and the power of madness itself.
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