Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Ronald Laing by @davidboyle1958 #NonFiction

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here http://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Ronald Laing by David Boyle

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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…

Book Description

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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Rosie’s #BookReview Team #RBRT Ronald Laing by @davidboyle1958 @TheRealPressPub #TuesdayBookBlog

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs at http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Ronald Laing: The rise and fall and rise of a radical psychiatrist by David Boyle

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I’m writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team. I was provided with an ARC copy of the book that I voluntarily chose to review.

I’m a psychiatrist and although I studied Medicine in Spain I have trained as a psychiatrist in the UK. Despite that, R.D. Laing and his ideas weren’t a part of our curriculum (I don’t know if things have changed now, as that was almost 25 years ago). During one of my training jobs, one of the psychotherapy tutors showed us a recording of an interview with R.D. Laing and he talked to us about him. He came across as a fascinating man with very interesting ideas, quite contrary to the standard focus on biological psychiatry, evidence-based interventions and emphasis on classification and symptoms rather than people. I read several of his books at the time and although I was fascinated by his ideas I didn’t have the time to study his figure and the rest of his work in detail.

This short book (the text takes up around 88% of the book as after that there are some extracts from other books from the same publisher, The Real Press) does an excellent job of highlighting both the person (the biography is succinct but it manages to include the salient points of his family life, his work experience and how both influenced his ideas) and his works. It also places Laing’s figure in its historical and socio-political era, linking it to other thinkers and movements of the time (hippy movement, antipsychiatry, existentialism, LSD culture…). Due to its length, it is not an exhaustive study of the individual works but it presents a good overview that will allow those who’ve never heard of R.D. Laing to gain some familiarity with his life and his work, and will bring together loose ends for those who might have read some of his works but don’t know how they fit into his career (because, as the author points out, some of Laing’s books are very difficult to understand). This text also provides a good guide to students interested in going deeper into Laing’s work and offers suggestions for further reading (both of Laing’s own works and of works about him). The book is being launched to coincide with the premier of a movie about Laing called ‘Mad to Be Normal’ starring David Tennant, and it should be a great complement to those who might come out of the movie intrigued and wanting to know more without embarking on complex theoretical books (that are very much of their time).

Boyle does a great job of extracting the most important aspects of Laing’s work and life and shows a good understanding and empathy towards the man and his ideas. Rather than focus exclusively on the most scandalous aspects of his life, he emphasises his care for patients, his own disturbed childhood, and how he insisted patients were unique and not just cogs in a machine that had to learn to show the required and accepted behaviour. Although many of his ideas have been discredited, his feelings about the profession and his insistence on listening to patients and putting their needs first resonate today as much as they did at the time. Personally, I’m pleased to see his figure is being re-evaluated. Never too soon.

Laing is one of these people whose life and scandals throw a big shadow over his work, but this book and, hopefully, the movie, might help new generations to rediscover him.

Book Description

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

I live in the South Downs, in Sussex, and write in a small green hut at the end of the garden – mainly about history, politics, economics and the future. I find that history now absorbs me the most, from Richard the Lionheart to Enigma and with a great deal in between. I try to recapture some of the spirit, even the magic, of the past – I’ve also written quite widely about fairies (I find this doesn’t sit easily with writing about economics, but I still wrestle with holding the two sides together…). I’ve found myself more recently writing about codes and the navy, which is a lifelong fascination, and – most recently – writing about family members as well, in Unheard, Unseen (about early submarines) and my great-great-grandfather is the central figure in Scandal. But then, where the magic and the economics can potentially come together is in fiction – notably in my Leaves the World to Darkness (fairies) and The Piper (money).

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