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4.3 out of 5 stars
The Outsider: A Journey Into My Father's Struggle With Madness
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on September 18, 2013
Anyone searching enlightenment in dealing with a schizophrenic family member would benefit from this book. Lachenmeyer's journey to understand his father's struggle not only portrays his father's struggle with madness, but also Lachenmeyer's response to that struggle. Mental illness affects the entire family on many levels; Lachenmeyer's account reveals as much about a healthy person's response to the suffering of a loved one as it does about the suffering person's struggle. Carefully and painstakingly researched, beautifully rendered, the result is a clear story of Lachenmeyer's father's journey through years of homelessness . It is a heartfelt, loving tribute to his father that is very healing and informative for a reader who relates to Lachenmeyer's experience.
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on January 3, 2001
This is a well written, thoughtful investigation of a man's descent into the depths of mental illness. It is written by the son of the mentally ill man, after his father's death and is an attempt by the son to understand how a brilliant professor with a PhD in sociology could have wound up homeless in the frigid environs of a Vermont winter. Pieces of the puzzle of his life after the breakup of the father/ son relationship are put together with painstaking delicacy, and obvious pain on the part of the author, whose childhood companion and beloved 'Dad' turned into an object of fear and mystery. With the benefit of maturity, the son considers how his father survived and how he must have felt, experiencing all the heartbreak and suffering and terror of his decline. It helps him to examine letters his father sent him over the years, which he kept, as if holding onto a piece of the father he once knew and lost. His obvious regret over having severed relations with his father when the illness was in flower is acknowledged through this attempt to reconstruct his father's life during the "lost years". The only flaw that I would mention is the author's inference that his father's mental illness was somehow brought on by the way he was raised, in a strict, Christian-Scientist home by a strange, paranoid mother. Although this was no doubt an unhealthy environment to grow up in, it overlooks the explanation that severe mental illness such as paranoid schizophrenia is the result of "broken brain" and cannot be caused by good or bad parenting. Still, the book is a touching tribute and a realistic portrayal of the tragedy of schizophrenia, which has been called "the cruelest illness of all".
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on February 22, 2015
Poignant tribute to a father who suffered from mental illness. It is heartfelt, smart, and revealing story of the journey a son takes in coming to terms of the loss of his father. Mental illness is a subject that still does not have the kind of support and compassion as other illness. He sheds light on how our society does not educate nor create the right resources on how to face this debilitating disease that affects us all.
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on August 19, 2005
THE OUTSIDER brought the pain and the struggles of Charles Lachenmeyer to life. Charles was a brillant sociology professor who gradually was transformed into a victim of paranoid schizophrenia. Even at his lowest points, he kept trying, and he kept believing in humanity. In one letter to the author, he wrote, "No matter how adverse the circumstances--and mine have been adverse--there is never any reason to give up . . ."

This book breathes life into a person with mental illness, and it brings understanding. It left me in tears and with a deep respect for Charles.
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on November 15, 2004
How many times have we looked at homeless people on the street and wondered how they got there? I've thought about it many times, because my own father was homeless when he died. When I searched for books about people with homeless parents, Lachenmeyer's "The Outsider" was the only one I could find. I expected a revealing look at what it's like to have an indigent parent - what I didn't expect was for it to be so touching, well-written, and kind. I hope others read it and have more compassion for the nameless people haunting our streets. All of them have family somewhere.
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on October 23, 2015
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on May 7, 2009
Nathaniel Lachenmeyer's account of his father, Charles, was a warmly written personal account of a man's rapid deterioration from a brilliant, young sociologist to a homeless vagabond.

I knew Charles Lachenmeyer very well when I was a student. He's was a very attractive, rebellious young sociologist, who was caught between the American dream of middle class suburbia and rebelliousness. He was a breath of fresh air in the staid world of academia. Unfortunately, his mental problems prevented him from a successful career as an academic sociologist.

I think that his son is quite successful at capturing much of this. Although Nathaniel was too young to recollect his father's academic career, he was quite successful at visiting Chuck's graduate department and obtaining valuable recollections that his former professors had of him. As a sociologist, I would have liked a little more of this.

All in all, I found this to be a brilliantly told story of a son's attempt to connect to his past through the story of his father's downward trajectory.
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on January 11, 2003
Nicholas Lachenmeyer writes about his own father, Charles W. Lachenmeyer, Ph.D. - a sociologist, author and professor - and about his father's struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. This disease ended his career and ultimately led to indigence, homelessness, and death.
This is also a mystery book with homeless characters, but of the nonfiction variety. One mystery, which Nathaniel establishes early on, is the mystery of the circumstances of his father's death. Years after losing contact with his father, he learns that his father has died in an apartment in Burlington, Vermont, apparently well-off, but that just the year before he had been homeless.
How had his father's situation improved, so that he could be cleaned up and well dressed at the time of his death? What might have led to the heart attack that killed him?
But the real mystery for Lachenmeyer is the nature of his father's world. He follows every clue that he can find, interviewing case workers, police officers, shelter managers, security guards, former academic colleagues, other homeless people, anyone who might have some insight into the way his father lived toward the end of his life, and above all into how he thought about his life and his world.
Given that paranoid schizophrenia is so difficult to understand - even psychiatrists don't understand it very well - it's inevitable that The Outsider should be to a large extent about the changing attitudes of the author toward his subject. It is very compelling on that level.
Lachenmeyer does a good job of conveying how his fear and estrangement from his father evolves into deep respect for the dignity of his struggle. He comes to realize both the enormous obstacles that his father faced simply to survive, and the strength of character that he managed to maintain even when reality was most lost to him.
But the book is also a pleasure to read for the humor that emerges from the story along the way. I particularly enjoyed a transcript of some delightful exchanges as a judge orders Charles to appear for a hearing. When the state's attorney says, "You understand your obligation to appear at that time?" Charles answers with, "Sure. I'll be here in a three-piece suit with the Queen of England."
Of course he misses his court date, too busy simply trying to survive on the streets to pay attention to the calendar.
The only reservation I have about recommending The Outsider stems from the harsh treatment that Lachenmeyer gives his father's parents. I have the feeling that some of his initial intolerance of his father's condition may have been displaced to the grandparents, and to their Christian Scientist upbringing of Charles.
Still, I'd say read the book and accept that as part of evolution of Lachenmeyer's attitudes.
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on October 3, 2001
Nathaniel Lachenmeyer's The Outsider - A Journey into My Father's Struggle with Madness is a unique book for many reasons. Written from the perspective of a hapless onlooker, it encompasses the full gamut of emotions suffered by the relatives of a person who is mentally ill. Furthermore, in the author's search for rhyme or reason for his father's demise the author eschews political grandstanding or heated rhetorical calls for "something to be done". Instead this is ultimately a book about acceptance - the acceptance of the vaguries of life, of the fact that nothing is guaranteed and ultimately, that sometimes when we face life's challenges we find ourselves incapable of rising to the occasion.
Written, as the title states, about the author's father's struggle with mental illness, the book also details the reaction of his family, his father's colleagues and the people: Social Workers, Caregivers and Cops, who came into contact with his father while he suffered from the illness which inevitably drove him onto the streets. In this the book is refreshingly frank - the author refrains from assigning blame and instead - perhaps as a result of his own lingering guilt over his own inability to deal with his father - examines the difficulty of dealing with a person suffering from mental illness. Lachenmeyer doesn't gloss over the conflicting emotions that people who deal with the mentally ill have, nor does he try to glorify those who are forced onto the streets because of it. Lachenmeyer is instead refreshingly unsparing in his examination of the problems associated with people suffering from mental illness, their impact of their illness on those around them and the questions surrounding how to adequately care for them.
Perhaps one of the most important points made throughout the book is about how so many mentally ill people end up on the street. Lachenmeyer is one of the few writers in this field to acknowledge that the whole concept of "deinstitutionalization", a hold-over from the ethos of the 1960's is largely responsible for the huge number of mentally ill homeless people on the streets today. In this Lachenmeyer definitely takes a chance at losing the part of his audience that is content to blame conservative governments and rapacious landlords for today's state of affairs. Further still, Lachenmeyer is surprisingly accepting of the role of police in dealing with the mentally ill, refraining from charged, politically-motivated commentary and instead accepting that the police too are responsible for, yet ill-equipped to deal with the mentally ill on the streets.
All too often reviewers label a book as "important". This is one of those books that truly is important; it is a sensitive, objective and heartfelt look at the problems surrounding mental illness and those that suffer it. Written with compassion and yet accurate in its analysis this book is an excellent reference source as well as an engaging and thought-provoking read. This book deserves a wide audience as it offers the potential to bring balance and objectivity to the on- going debate over the homeless and the mentally ill.It is definitely a must read for anyone who is even remotely associated with this issue. However, as a story alone it is one not to be missed
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I would have given this book a '5' except that the writing was not up to the content.

This book is about an adult man who seeks out the history of his schizophrenic father who died homeless. Estranged while he was alive, guilt drives the son to attempt to know his father and understand his illness.

I think this book will help people understand the tragedy of schizophrenia and increase understanding of this brain disorder.
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