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BookBrowse Reviews The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan

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The Great Pretender

The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

by Susannah Cahalan

The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan X
The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan
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  • Published:
    Nov 2019, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Herschbach
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In this engrossing read, journalist Susannah Cahalan untangles the complicated truth behind one of psychology's most widely cited and reprinted studies while tackling broader questions about the very meaning of mental illness.

Susannah Cahalan's The Great Pretender is a fascinating deep-dive into one of the most influential studies in the history of psychology, Stanford University professor David Rosenhan's 1973 paper "On Being Sane in Insane Places." In an era of growing doubts about the validity of psychiatry, Rosenhan—the "great pretender" of the book's title—undertook to put the discipline to the test with a daring experiment. He and seven other volunteers pretended to be mentally ill and went undercover in institutions across the nation to see whether doctors and staff could tell the difference between the sane and the insane. Apparently, Rosenhan reported in his bombshell study, they could not.

As Cahalan's book explains, Rosenhan and the other "pseudopatients" arrived at a psychiatric hospital complaining of just one vague symptom—hearing voices that said "empty," "hollow" and "...

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