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Gracefully Insane

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We gave it a B

Before the age of spas and deluxe rehab centers, the pampered in need of mental reprieve often sought out the McLean Hospital, a bucolic facility in Belmont, Mass. (best known as the setting for such books as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted). Beam, a columnist for The Boston Globe, has nicely traced the history of this institution, founded in 1817, and its inhabitants, though his attempts to integrate the complicated history of psychology into his narrative are less adept. But he elicits fascinating stories from both residents and staff, like the recollections of ”satisfied customer and repeat visitor” Ray Charles’ impromptu concerts.

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