Thursday, 6 April 2017

RONALD LAING by David Boyle

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE

How I discovered this book:  It was a submission to Rosie Amber's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

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...'

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...

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