What is madness? How have social, philosophical, medical and legal definitions influenced the way the insane are treated? These are the primary questions addressed in a series of essays by social and medical historians chiefly, but not exclusively, from Great Britain. Volume I looks at society, thinkers and the medical community through the ages to determine how madness has been defined and handled. The first essay, by M.A. Screech, examines Erasmus' belief that ""Christianity at its highest is a form of good madness"" in that it extolls religious ecstasy as ""man's greatest blessing and happiness."" The last, by Arthur W. Clare, analyses the small number of cases Freud used to prove the efficacy of his psychoanalytic technique--and finds Freud's evidence thin indeed. In between is a potpourri of selections on widely diverse aspects of society vis-â€¦-vis insanity: Samuel Johnson's persistent melacholia and his fears of going mad serve as a window to the mind of a talented man teetering on the brink of insanity; a discussion of how and why views on Hamlet changed over the years from the belief that he was feigning madness to the post-Freudian contention that he was truly insane. Volume II zeroes in on the state and insanity: its asylums and their ramifications for the afflicted and society in general. Here we are admitted to Bedlam, whose inmates were indeed put on display, chained and whipped; but also where the essayist finds some who were provided with humane care. Another piece deals with the Quaker-run York Retreat, which, between 1796 and 1846, provided an attractive physical environment of homelike buildings and gardens along with a loving approach to inmates (who were restrained only when they became violent and who were encouraged in hobbies and the development of useful skills). Other essays examine private British institutions for the well-to-do, Swedish asylums in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the 1890 trial of Gabrielle Bompard, who claimed she had collaborated in murder because her lover had hypnotized her: the author uses this as a springboard for a discussion of a schism in French psychiatric circles, of Gallic social and legal attitudes toward sex, and of what people then saw as a decline in French civilization. The intellectual plane of most of these selections (particularly in Volume I) is fairly ratified, and a considerable knowledge of the history of British psychiatry is assumed. This limits the audience to historians, psychiatric professionals and laymen with a particular knowledge of or interest in the subject. In sum: A valuable reference work on a very specialized yet compelling facet of history.