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The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 19, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


The Three Christs of Ypsilanti is more than the record of an experiment in the outermost reaches of social psychology. Among other things it represents, in an unpretentious but remarkably vivid way, what institutionalized madness is like.”
-Steven Marcus, The New York Review of Books

“A rare and eccentric journey into the madness of not three, but four men in an asylum. It is, in that sense, an unexpected tribute to human folly, and one that works best as a meditation on our own misplaced self-confidence. Whether scientist or psychiatric patient, we assume others are more likely to be biased or misled than we are, and we take for granted that our own beliefs are based on sound reasoning and observation. This may be the nearest we can get to revelation—the understanding that our most cherished beliefs could be wrong.”
—Vaughan Bell, Slate

The Three Christs is part meticulous log-book, part intriguing commentary and part high-voltage play as Rokeach recreates the men's interactions over 25 months. Rokeach's aim was to force them to confront ‘the ultimate contradiction’ of believing they were the same being….Reissued for the first time in over 25 years, it comes with a pithy and sensitive preface by Rick Moody, foregrounding both changing attitudes to institutional care and the problems and possibilities of Rokeach's experiment.” – The Guardian

"It also seemed to me, aged 16, that The Three Christs of Ypsilanti contained everything there was to know about the world. That’s not the case of course, but if resources were short, I’d still be inclined to salvage this book as a way of explaining the terror of the human condition, and the astonishing fact that people battle for their rights and dignity in the face of that terror, in order to establish their place in the world, whatever they decide it has to be." -- Jenny Diski, London Review of Books

About the Author

Milton Rokeach (1918–1988) was born in Hrubieszów, Poland, and at the age of seven moved with his family to Brooklyn. He received his BA from Brooklyn College in 1941. In the same year he began in the fledgling social psychology program at the University of California at Berkeley, but his studies were interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army Air Forces Aviation Psychology Program. He returned to Berkeley in 1946 and received his PhD in 1947. Rokeach became a professor of psychology at Michigan State University and subsequently taught at the University of Western Ontario, Washington State University, and the University of Southern California. His famous psychological study The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (1964) has been made into a screenplay, a stage play, and two operas. His other major books are The Open and Closed Mind (1960), Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values (1968), and The Nature of Human Values (1973). Rokeach received the Kurt Lewin Memorial Award from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues in 1984 and the Harold Lasswell Award from the International Society of Political Psychology in 1988.

Rick Moody was born in New York City in 1961. He is the author of five novels, three collections of stories, and a memoir, The Black Veil. His work has been widely anthologized. He has taught at Bennington College, SUNY Purchase, New York University, and the New School for Social Research. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173848
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173848
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #297,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By M. Bromberg on May 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
The premise of Rokeach's study (bringing people together who share the same delusion) has broad implications: in a culture with so many shared ideas and values, what sets us apart as individuals? In this 1960s experiment, of course, these three patients have been diagnosed with a proven pathology. In society at large most of us seek out friends and associates with whom we share a great deal; yet our sense of personality is still a matter of individual choices. At end, this was the same discovery Rokeach made with his three Christs; when confronted with the truth, these three men made personal choices allowing for the existence of the others -- a society of Christs. I first read this in the early 1970s as part of an anthropology course, and although I am not a health care professional I found it a fascinating study, one that carries the reader with an almost novel-like flow. For those who read it with care, it will provoke a lot of questions about what makes us who we are, both as individuals and as members of society. A fictional parallel to many of the ideas in this book, though by no means exact, can be found in Nigel Dennis's 1955 novel "Cards of Identity."
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Patrick W. Crabtree VINE VOICE on June 19, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Take three mentally ill institutionalized men, each of whom firmly believes that he is Jesus Christ. Put them all in one place and let them talk to one another. What happens? Find out! This is a true story and a fluid read, (no major technical jargon -- edited like a novel).

This study was carried out over a lengthy period of time by state psychiatrist Milton Rokeach (the book author) in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1964. One might question Rokeach's ethics in carrying out such an experiment with three such delusional men but, had it led to a cure for any of their respective mental difficulties, one could say that the end justified the means. And it was, of course, Rokeach's objective to help these men.

This book is often difficult to find and is usually rather expensive when it is located, typically around $30 for a hardcover edition. Still, it's a great read and anyone who has an interest in social science will find it especially riveting.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Eric V. Jung on June 5, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Others better qualified than I have commented on the psychological aspects, and the novel-like flow of the book. What I don't see mentioned, and what struck me, is the overlap between the language of the three Christs and the language of the poetry of the same period - Dylan, John Lennon, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac. The Christs, coming from delusion, paranoia, and dysfunctional mental processes, speak or write throwing off jarring, powerful metaphors that make no sense lying on the page but make hypersense when allowed to rattle around in your head. There are stretches that remind me, especially, of Dylan's "Tarantula" or Lennon's "In His Own Write"; or Captain Beefheart at his wordplaying best. There's plenty there for the psychologists to chew on - why does a Kerouac or a Ginsberg sound like an institutionalized delusional Christ, and vice versa. Anyway - in this very entertaining and disturbing book, there's material for a thousand New Wave or Punk band names. And there's more reality in the three Christs than in a hundred tv "reality" shows or a thousand Hollywood movies.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Martha Hume on October 23, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An intriguing and thought-provoking study of an experiment on personal identity that would never be undertaken today, when there are no longer large mental institutions with resident patient populations, not to mention ethical guidelines about informed consent from subjects. Nonetheless, these three men, all of whom claim to be Jesus Christ, are amazingly perceptive in intuiting the purpose of their participation in the project, and achingly ingenious in devising defenses against attempts to dislodge their delusions. To the extent to which it is possible to extrapolate from "The Three Christs of Ypsilanti" the book suggests that the lengths to which people will go to defend their perceptions of who they are--a phenomenon that is especially pertinent in an America in the throes of re-imagining itself. Well written, with compelling characters and interesting stories.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ricardo Bretado on October 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I went into this book looking to learn about identity for the purpose of becoming a better story teller. What I got from this book far more than what I expected. This book isn't just about some patients in a mental hospital, it's about every person that ever had feelings of insecurity, every person that's ever felt social anxiety, every person that ever wished they were more than what they are. This book teaches what it is to be human.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By B. Weaves on July 1, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fascinating book. I bought a used copy in good condition. I first came across this book because it was mentioned in the back of GEB (Godel, Escher, & Bach). I've been meaning to read The 3 Christs for over 30 years.

The book starts out written a bit like a novel, but then just becomes snippets of conversations. It's pretty obvious, after the fact, that these men cannot be cured. What is sad is that the doctors involved seem to feel that they can mess with these patients heads under the deluded impression that maybe something the doctors do will "fix" the patients. It's painfully obvious that the doctors have no clue what they are doing and are throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if any of it sticks. The book is heavily loaded with one particular patient, and a little bit of the second patient and almost none of the third patient. It is still a fascinating read, and I'm surprised no one has tried to make it into a movie.

I didn't understand the cover art. I thought maybe it was just some trees and a lake in Ypsilanti. My husband read the fine print on the back of the book. Cover photo: William C. Weidling, "Nature's Mystic Apparition of Christ," Covington, KY 1914,Gelatin silver print. They he held the book away from me and all of a sudden I saw a naked bearded man in the tree branches on the left side of the book cover. Now I cannot UNsee it.
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