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Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, And The Enduring Mistreatment Of The Mentally Ill Hardcover – December 24, 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 164 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Hot on the heels of an optimistic film about Nobelist John Nash's schizophrenic journey comes medical journalist Robert Whitaker's disturbing exposé of the cruel and corrupt business of treating mental illness in America. Mad in America begins by surveying three centuries of mental health treatments to discover why positive outcomes for schizophrenics in the U.S. for the last 25 years have decreased--making them lower than those in developing countries. Whitaker asks, "Why should living in a country with such rich resources and advanced medical treatments for disorders of every kind, be so toxic to those who are severely mentally ill?"

One of Whitaker's answers draws upon the historic and current assumptions of a physical cause for schizophrenia. This resulted in cruel and unusual physical treatments--from ice-water immersion and bloodletting to the more contemporary electroshock, lobotomy, and drug therapies with dangerous side effects. This physical cause model leads to Whitaker's more provocative explanation: that mental illness has become a profit center. He offers disturbing details about how good business for drug companies makes for bad medicine in treating schizophrenia. From drug companies skewing their studies and patient/subjects kept in the dark about experiments to the cozy relationship between the American Psychiatric Association and drug companies, Whitaker underlines the mistreatment of the mentally ill. This courageous and compelling book succeeds as both a history of our attitudes toward mental illness and a manifesto for changing them. --Barbara Mackoff

From Publishers Weekly

Tooth removal. Bloodletting. Spinning. Ice-water baths. Electroshock therapy. These are only a few of the horrifying treatments for mental illness readers encounter in this accessible history of Western attitudes toward insanity. Whitaker, a medical writer and Pulitzer Prize finalist, argues that mental asylums in the U.S. have been run largely as "places of confinement facilities that served to segregate the misfits from society rather than as hospitals that provided medical care." His evidence is at times frightening, especially when he compares U.S. physicians' treatments of the mentally ill to medical experiments and sterilizations in Nazi Germany. Eugenicist attitudes, Whitaker argues, profoundly shaped American medicine in the first half of the 20th century, resulting in forced sterilization and other cruel treatments. Between 1907 and 1927, roughly 8,000 eugenic sterilizations were performed, while 10,000 mentally ill Americans were lobotomized in the years 1950 and 1951 alone. As late as 1933, there were no states in which insane people could legally get married. Though it covers some of the same territory as Sander Gilman's Seeing the Insane and Elaine Showalter's The Female Malady, Whitaker's richer, more detailed book will appeal to those interested in medical history, as well as anyone fascinated by Western culture's obsessive need to define and subdue the mentally ill. Agent, Kevin Lang.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Printing edition (January 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738203858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738203850
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #692,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I normally never write review but feel as though this book is worthy of one. What the author does in this book is what journalists fail to do. He investigates the people in charge of taking care of the mentally ill in a way that makes the reader wonder who is the one that is really ill.
He starts out with a brief history of how mentally ill people have been treated throughout history. From hydrotherapy to metrazol, insulin coma, draining of blood, "tranquilizer chairs", etc. This progresses to the more recent introduction of neuroleptics in the 1950's and how they induce a sort of parkinsonism. What's most revealing about these drugs is how he points out that people who never take them are more likely to recover. In this part of the book, he also talks about Freeman's disgusting labotomy procedures in which he pokes the patient about the eye and places a stick in their head and wiggles it to destroy the frontal lobes. Patients then go on to act like children and even continue eating after vomiting in their own food.
With all that said, the most revealing aspect is the fact that people in less developed countries fare a lot better with schizophrenia than people in more developed countries. The introduction of atypical neuroleptics also reveal how "dirty" these drugs really are in that they target so many different neurotransmitters. He goes on to point so many conflicts of interest in regards to the reviews of drugs that it left me shocked.
The saddest part of the book is the story of various individuals. A young woman was taken off venlafaxine and given amphetamines to induce her psychosis to the point where they could experiment on her using brain scans.
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Format: Hardcover
In 1968 I and a friend decided to get out of the Army by pretending we were crazy. We ended up in a major Army psych ward on the west coast. I saw first hand how patients looked before and directly after shock treatment and heavy psych drugs. Although my psychiatrist knew I was faking it (but couldn't prove it) he casually suggested that "maybe some shock treatment might help," while watching me for any reaction. My stomach turned into a knot as I tried to suppress the terror I felt when I realized he could do just that and there was nothing I could do about it.
That relatively mild experience helps me to get a little idea of the utter horror some of the patients I saw and those in this book must have felt.
It's difficult to believe that in this country where "all men are created equal" our fellow citizens have been treated as they have simply because they made the mistake of going to a phychiatrist for help. It should read "all men minus the mentally ill or those we consider unfit are created equal."
This book should be a wake up call to all of those artists, dreamers, eccentrics, religious believers, minorities or any other groups that might be considered different. To one of these phychiatrists you just may have a delusional disorder (because you don't think like everyone else) and should be put on medication to release you from your "mental illness."
If you value your personal freedom and our way of life in this country, please read this book and tell others to read it.
The keywords "alternative mental health" brings up some useful alternatives for mental health that are not mind numbing.
Also, "niacin and schizophrenia" is good.
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Format: Hardcover
Imagine a doctor wearing the traditionally authoritative white coat walking into the local asylum with a baseball bat. He finds a couple of hyperactive patient-residents, clobbers them over the head with the bat and notices that they grow noticeably calmer when unconcious. The company that makes the bats funds the Doctor's subsequent research (which of course corroborates the earlier findings) and the bat is marketed to other psychiatrists as the "mood stabilizer." N years later the therapy of choice might be a stun-gun, a.k.a., the bio-consciousness transformer. Mad in America, as the title suggests, chronicles the history of a dysfunctional field, psychiatry, and the way it variously classified, misunderstood, mistreated and misled the most vulnerale of its patients, the schizophrenic. Psychiatry either failed to see what was happening to its patients or fabricated what it saw. Lobotomies, the so-called neuroleptics and the "atypicals" are all here on display in Whitaker's book as hyped and ineffective at best and, at worst, downright fradulent therapies. Taking a cue from Watergate's deepthroat, Whitaker almost always can explain why psychiatry went astray by "following the money."
This is a powerful book, but a problematic one as well. At least some of the drugs described by Whitaker remain in the standard PDR. Some fraction of patients may benefit from them, and benefit for reasons that psychiatry may not adequately understand. It's also valid that some fraction of patients benefit from placebos. Whitaker is surely right to put all of us on our guard, but few are willing to abandon entirely the hypothesis that bio-chemical imabalnces may be involved at some level as a causal agent in the overall manifestation of "madness.
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