The Alienist’s Library

A list of resources of which the Alienist is particularly fond


The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry, Greenberg (2013). Psychiatry has always faced a hurdle of skepticism that other specialties within medicine have not. The author, a therapist and journalist by trade, does a good job of describing current diagnostic controversies and the strong personalities involved in the DSM editorial process. He also discusses at length the symbiotic relationship between many prominent psychiatrists and Big Pharma, an admittedly seedy aspect of the discipline. Nevertheless, I have included the book on my list with some hesitation, as it is far from unbiased. The author’s previous work, Manufacturing Depression, should give the reader an idea of his approach, and why he came to be declared persona non grata by the American Psychiatric Ass’n (which refused to grant him access to its archives). When he compares the public relations office within APA to North Korea, and talks of psychiatric conspiracies and power-grabs, his promising start goes a bit over the top.

Cranioklepty – Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius, Dickey (2009). Some rather prominent people lost their heads, post-mortem, to the phrenologists. A story well-written and not often told.

A Lawyers’ Guide to Understanding Psychiatry, Carbone (2012). A helpful work for those new to the psychiatric medico-legal realm. This resource will enable lawyers to understand the subject matter, frame better questions, and more precisely identify facts pertinent to a case. The book begins with an overview of both western psychiatry and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; subsequent chapters cover diagnostic techniques, neuroses, psychoses, personality disorders, psychotropic medications and other treatment modalities, and the oft-abused divination of future dangerousness.

A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity, Ray (1838). The first American text on forensic psychiatry, since reprinted. Its wording is quaint, but much of what it opines on certain topics (e.g., malingering) remains pertinent and useful today.

Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry – A Doctor’s Revelations About A Profession in Crisis, Carlat (2010). A good encapsulation of the ‘pills for all ills’ mentality that has overtaken the discipline.

Medical and Medico-Legal

Dissection – Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880 to 1930, Warner and Edmonson (2009). A wonderful if macabre coffee-table book drawing on period photographs (actually going as far back as the 1840s) in the collection of the Dittrick Museum; though such posing with cadavers would never be allowed today, it nonetheless illustrates an age in many ways more innocent and inquisitive than the one in which we now live.

Fromm’s – How Julius Fromm’s Condom Empire Fell to the Nazis, Aly, et al. (2009). You wouldn’t think the Nazis would be particularly interested in condoms. You’d be wrong. I can’t help but view this as a cautionary tale regarding those today who would roll back women’s (and men’s) public health and reproductive rights.

The Humble Little Condom, Collier (2007). Another condom book makes the list because it never ceases to amaze me how basic and common-sense public health interventions can become so ridiculously controversial. This book is an interesting read, though its main fault – rather glaring – is a wholesale lack of footnotes and citations.

Let the Record Show – Medical Malpractice and the Lawsuit that Nobody Wins, Avery (2000). Written for the lay reader, it’s still a very good encapsulation of the sorts of mistakes, both honest and negligent, that will land docs in court.

Skulls and Skeletons: Human Bone Collections and Accumulations, Quigley (2008). Readers of this blog will not find it surprising that one or more books on bones makes the list. I have long been fascinated by both the medical (think museum) and sepulchral (think charnel house) aspects of human remains. This work, its dull title notwithstanding, is the most comprehensive research I’ve encountered on catacombs, ossuaries, mass graves, excavations, decorations, procurement, curation, and repatriation. It’s not lurid, but it’s certainly only for those who find this subject matter of interest.


Everything to date by Bart Ehrman, including Misquoting Jesus (2005) and How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (2014). Although he pedantically repeats himself, everything written by this admittedly agnostic historian and professor of religious studies has been riveting. If theists are honest with themselves, they’ll realize that the Christian canon is actually the ecclesiastic form of the kids’ game of ‘telephone.’ Put another way, if God had a hand in the Bible and organized religion as we know it today, it’s been pretty badly distorted by mankind since the inception.

Everything to date by Erik Larson, including Isaac’s Storm (1999), The Devil In The White City (2003), Thunderstruck (2006), In The Garden of Beasts (2011), and Dead Wake (2015). This author has a knack for weaving fascinating tales from long-forgotten historical events. These five tomes, in order, detail the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the psychopath H.H. Holmes, the first use of telegraphy in catching a fugitive, life amongst the diplomatic corps of 1930s Berlin, and the avoidable tragedy of Lusitania. If the topics don’t pique your interest, you’ve obviously never read any of Larson’s works.

The Dahlgren Affair – Terror and Conspiracy in the Civil War, Schultz (1998). We think of the scourge of terrorism as being a modern invention. Had Jefferson Davis and the Copperheads accomplished their plans, state-sponsored terrorism would instead have been birthed in the 1860s, with entirely unpredictable results for American and world history.

Havana Nocturne, or How The Mob Owned Cuba And Then Lost It to the Revolution, English (2008). Batista was a slimy character, and the bottom-feeders he nurtured were no better. That said, this book documents several really close-calls when the Fidelistas could have been snuffed out – but weren’t. And just think how history would have been changed.

Heavenly Bodies, Koudounaris (2013). A photographic and textual treatment of katakombenheiligen, or catacomb saints, of the 17th through 19th centuries. If you’re not familiar with these cults, and would like to see how a 1500 year old skeleton looks when covered with gold and jewels, this is the book for you.

The History of Hell, Turner (1993). Hades, as both a concept and parcel of infernal real estate, certainly has evolved a lot over the ages.

Lux in Arcana – The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals Itself (2012). A coffee-table book issued by the Holy See’s Secret (read: private) Archives. Even non-believers will be breathtaken at the treasures collected for almost two millennia.

Russian Roulette – How British Spies Thwarted Lenin’s Plot For Global Revolution, Milton (2013). Headlines starting in the 1980s trumpeted the messy Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, restive Muslim tribes in Pakistan’s northwest frontier, expanding terrorism, the chess game of espionage, and the thinly veiled hostility to foreign interests pervasive throughout central Asia. More recently there has been extensive coverage of chemical warfare in Syria. And yet, no one remains alive who would remember when all of the same geopolitical machinations were taking place the first time around, just after WWI. This tightly-composed non-fiction thriller focuses on both the big picture as well as the individual undercover ‘rascals and scallywags’ who likely saved the Western world from untold upheaval and bloodshed. As Ian Fleming is quoted as having noted of this period, “James Bond is just a bit of nonsense I dreamed up. He’s not a Sidney Reilly, you know.”

Part of a Complete Breakfast: Cereal Characters of the Baby Boom Era, Hollis (2012). Though seemingly an odd book for recommendation on a site primarily medico-legal and psychiatric in nature, this work shows just how deleterious can be the subtle mind games directed at the vulnerable, esp. minors. Though it started life as a mere documentary of familiar icons of pop culture, it instead illustrates the predatory approach employed by those responsible in large part for the current obesity epidemic in America.

Stealing the Mystic Lamb, Charney (2010). Arguably the most amazing art theft of which you’ve never heard.

Tilt, Shrady (2003). The best stories concerning the leaning Pisan wonder which everyone recognizes but no one really knows – such as how the U.S. Army came within minutes of blowing up the tower in 1944. And that yarn of Galileo dropping objects from the top to disprove Aristotlean physics? All bunk.

With Wings Like Eagles, Korda (2009). A compelling and readable history of the Battle of Britain. What makes this work more interesting than the other 5000+ publications on the subject is that Churchill doesn’t come off very sympathetically, which runs counter to that which most Anglophiles – and I count myself amongst them – would have you believe.

And at least one of which he’s not so fond…

Blood Meridian, Or The Evening Redness In The West, McCarthy (1985). Cormac McCarthy’s name is often mentioned for a possible Nobel Prize. I’m not usually a fan of fiction, but as many critics consider this work his opus – that of a Western anti-hero as far from John Wayne as one can get – I thought it might be a good venue through which to make the author’s acquaintance.

The meeting did not go well, and I don’t care to repeat it anytime soon.

I am not prudish when it comes to sex and violence. That said, this book is pornographically awash in the latter for no discernible reason. It makes Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah look restrained and timid in comparison.

Hollywood optioned Blood Meridian years ago, but remains flummoxed re: how to fashion a screenplay that is true to the book but able to make the transition to the silver screen without earning an X-rating (for blood-soaked depravity, not sex.) I’m uncertain if that goal is possible, or even desirable. After reading this 349 page ordeal, my brain is filled with disturbing images that I would gladly purge were I able to do so.

Plus, I understand that authors want dialog – in this case between rough cowboy types – to seem authentic. But after hundreds of pages of poor grammar and punctuation, one begins to wonder if McCarthy knows how to compose in proper English any longer?

If you want depression and existential angst, stick with Hemingway, who does it so much better.

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

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