McLean Hospital is one of the most famous, most elite, and once most luxurious mental institutions in America. Its "alumni" include Sylvia Plath, John Forbes Nash, Ray Charles and Susanna Kaysen. James Taylor found inspiration for a song or two there; Frederic Law Olmsted first designed the grounds and later signed in as a patient. In its "golden age," McLean provided as gracious and gentle an environment for the treatment of mental illness as one could imagine. But the golden age is over, and a downsized, downscale McLean is struggling to stay afloat.
Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam's Gracefully Insane is an entertaining and strangely poignant biography of McLean from its founding in 1817 through today. The story of McLean is also the story of the hopes and failures of psychology and psychotherapy; of the evolution of attitudes about mental illness; and of the economic pressures that are making McLean--and other institutions like it--relics of a bygone age.
This is fascinating reading for the many readers interested in either the literature of madness--from The Bell Jar to Girl, Interrupted to A Beautiful Mind--or in the history of its treatment....Continua