Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here http://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/
Terry has been reading Ronald Laing by David Boyle
RONALD LAING by David Boyle
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team
The name R D Laing is one that I’ve often seen around, probably on my parents’ bookshelves, too, but I’ve never really known who he was. I’ve long been sceptical about psychiatric diagnoses, so this book piqued my interest. It’s only novella length, so I knew it wouldn’t be a huge chore to get through if I didn’t like it. Happily, I did.
Laing was an unorthodox Scottish psychiatrist who challenged methods of psychiatric treatment during the 1940s and 50s, was greatly influenced by existential philosophy and became a cult figure in the 1960s. This book is not long enough to be a biography; it’s more an overview of his life and an examination of his principles, theories and work in relation to the trends of the time. David Boyle writes intelligently, clearly and in language plain enough for the general reader with no knowledge of the subject. He gives a few instances of Laing’s experiments when working in psychiatric hospitals, such as this one: ‘…In one ward, he reduced the drugs to practically zero and locked the door. In the first week of the experiment, about 30 windows were smashed. Nobody was hurt, so from the second week onwards he unlocked the doors and found there was no rush to leave, and the windows stayed intact … it was being locked up that they resented.’
Like others of his brilliance, philosophies, era and convention-challenging ideas, Laing sank heavily into the bottle and became something of a caricature of himself. I was interested in much of what Boyle touched upon, found myself constantly nodding and highlighting passages, and will find out more, I am sure, probably from the bibliography at the back. This mini-bio ends at 87%, after which there is the beginning of another work by David Boyle, and a list of others, which I was interested enough to look at.
‘He had a complete lack of interest in any kind of small talk or going through the social motions’. Hang on while I go and look him up on YouTube…
The radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing took the world by storm in the 1960s and 1970s with his ideas about madness, families and people’s need for authenticity. At the height of his fame he could fill stadiums like Bob Dylan, and often did so. He became an icon of the movement that held psychiatry to be an agency of repression, his phrases on a million hippy T-shirts. Then he fell from grace, flung out of the medical profession, and his influence has been waning since. His basic ideas have been regarded as having been discredited. Yet, despite this, his influence is also everywhere – but largely unnoticed and unremarked.
This book tells the extraordinary human story of his struggle, first with the authorities as a psychiatrist in the army and then a series of mental hospitals. It explains his extraordinary influence in the context of the upheavals of those psychedelic days – and it looks at what we can still learn from Laing today. Boyle finds he still has an unexpectedly potent message.
About the author
David Boyle is the author of Blondel’s Song: The capture, imprisonment and ransom of Richard the Lionheart, and a series of books about history, social change and the future. His book Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life helped put the search for authenticity on the agenda as a social phenomenon. The Tyranny of Numbers and The Sum of Our Discontent predicted the backlash against the government’s target culture. Funny Money launched the time banks movement in the UK.
David is an associate of the new economics foundation, the pioneering think-tank in London, and has been at the heart of the effort to introduce time banks to Britain as a critical element of public service reform – since when the movement has grown to more than 100 projects in the UK.
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