100 books like Asylums

By Erving Goffman,

Here are 100 books that Asylums fans have personally recommended if you like Asylums. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine

Emily Baum Author Of The Invention of Madness: State, Society, and the Insane in Modern China

From my list on rethinking your sanity.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent the last decade researching and writing about mental illness and how it manifests in different cultures. My research has led me to archives in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, where I’ve uncovered documents from the earliest Chinese-managed asylums and psychopathic hospitals – documents that give rare glimpses into what it was like to have been mentally ill in China at the turn of the twentieth century. My book, The Invention of Madness, is the first monographic study of mental illness in China in the modern period.

Emily's book list on rethinking your sanity

Emily Baum Why did Emily love this book?

Although Madhouse reads like a Stephen King novel, everything it recounts is actually true. At the turn of the twentieth century, Henry Cotton, a psychiatrist and the medical director of the New Jersey State Hospital at Trenton, thought he had found the solution to mental illness. His unconventional approach to treatment, however, left more people dead and disfigured than effectively cured. Andrew Scull’s deeply-researched narrative of Cotton’s medical interventions is a horrifying, yet entirely gripping, account of the lengths people have gone in the name of psychiatric treatment.

By Andrew Scull,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Madhouse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Reads as much like a novel as it does a work of medical scholarship."-Patrick McGrath, New York Times Book Review

Madhouse revealsa long-suppressed medical scandal, shocking in its brutality and sobering in its implications. It shows how a leading American psychiatrist of the early twentieth century came to believe that mental illnesses were the product of chronic infections that poisoned the brain. Convinced that he had uncovered the single source of psychosis, Henry Cotton, superintendent of the Trenton State Hospital, New Jersey, launched a ruthless campaign to "eliminate the perils of pus infection." Teeth were pulled, tonsils excised, and stomachs,…


Book cover of The Yellow Wallpaper

Kay Freeman Author Of The Devil You Know: Gothic Romance Suspense

From my list on gothic with obsessed characters.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always had an interest in art, growing up a military brat and constantly moving, left me time to doodle and read. I spent the first part of my life as an art professor and artist. I began writing three years ago when my manuscript was chosen for RWA’s Ramp program in 2021. With my art, my interest leans more towards the bizarre and unexplained. I believe the romance stories I write follow suit, dark and gothic romance my primary interest, but always with spiritual and hopeful undertones. I also write some non-fiction for a local magazine where I live, The Greenville Stroll and on substack a newsletter for romance writers.

Kay's book list on gothic with obsessed characters

Kay Freeman Why did Kay love this book?

This book unleashed my interest in gothic literature, and soon after, I wrote my book.

I enjoy the way the narrative begins innocently and picks up momentum. Racing to the ending like a runaway train. I did something similar in my book with the pacing. Stetson's novella feels so much more prominent in scope than a novella. What makes this gothic is that it captures the deterioration of a woman into madness, in much the same way Edgar Allen Poe did with his male protagonist in The Raven.

You can read Stetson's novella for free. It's in the public domain. 

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Yellow Wallpaper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Yellow Wallpaper (original title: "The Yellow Wall-paper. A Story") is a 6,000-word short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. It is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature, illustrating attitudes in the 19th century toward women's health, both physical and mental.


Presented in the first person, the story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband (John) has rented an old mansion for the summer. Forgoing other rooms in the house, the couple moves into the upstairs nursery. As…


Book cover of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche

Susan S. Sered Author Of Can't Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility

From my list on mental illness, drug use, trauma, and crime.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am intrigued by the diversity of human responses to suffering. As a social scientist, I've had the great fortune to carry out research in Israel, Okinawa (Japan), and the US. People in each of these countries have experienced horrific events, and they deal with the suffering they’ve endured in very different ways. In Israel and Okinawa, people seem to understand that suffering is a natural part of life and come together to deal with the aftermath of tragedy. In the US, in contrast, we tend to treat tragedy as an individual trauma that leads to emotional pathology, and our responses tend to be limited to therapy, medicine, and drugs.

Susan's book list on mental illness, drug use, trauma, and crime

Susan S. Sered Why did Susan love this book?

This book differs from the others on my “best books” list. This one doesn’t deal (directly) with the convergences of mental illness and criminal justice institutions and policies. However, it provides extraordinary insight into the many ways in which mental health/illness has been understood in diverse societies around the world and into the power of American ideas and treatments to eradicate that diversity within incredibly brief periods of time.

This book has great chapters on the rise of anorexia in Hong Kong, changing responses to schizophrenia in Zanzibar, and the marketing of depression in Japan. But the chapter that most spoke to me is “The Wave that Brought PTSD to Sri Lanka.” In this chapter Watters traces how American mental health professionals responded to the enormous, disastrous tsunami that wiped out entire towns in 2004. In a nutshell, while American mental health professionals focused on PTSD, Sri Lankans were more…

By Ethan Watters,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Crazy Like Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A blistering and truly original work of reporting and analysis, uncovering America’s role in homogenizing how the world defines wellness and healing” (Po Bronson).

In Crazy Like Us, Ethan Watters reveals that the most devastating consequence of the spread of American culture has not been our golden arches or our bomb craters but our bulldozing of the human psyche itself: We are in the process of homogenizing the way the world goes mad.

It is well known that American culture is a dominant force at home and abroad; our exportation of everything from movies to junk food is a well-documented…


Book cover of The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times

Frazer Lee Author Of Greyfriars Reformatory

From my list on making you the inmate of a sinister institution.

Why am I passionate about this?

A lifelong horror fan, I have always been fascinated by haunted landscapes and creepy buildings. My childhood in the Midlands of England prepared me for my career as a horror writer and filmmaker with its abundance of spooky ruins and foggy canal paths. I have since explored ancient sites all across the U.K. and Europe and my novels are inspired by these field trips into the uncanny, where the contemporary every day rubs shoulders with the ancient and occult. Places become characters in their own right in my work and I think this list of books celebrates that. I hope you find them as disturbing and thought-provoking as I have.

Frazer's book list on making you the inmate of a sinister institution

Frazer Lee Why did Frazer love this book?

I once worked on a film shoot at the infamous Friern Barnet Asylum in London, an imposing building that boasts the longest corridor in Europe at over a third of a mile long. It was my job to lock up after filming was over each night, and to do so, I had to walk the long corridor with just a flashlight for company… and the ghosts rumoured to haunt the building! I have never forgotten the feeling of dread and despair in that place, and my heart went out to the patients who were isolated in the creepy basement wards. Barbara Taylor gives an inside perspective on this fearsome institution in her book, which is both an achingly honest account of mental illness and addiction, and a critique of community care.

By Barbara Taylor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Asylum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Last Asylum is Barbara Taylor's haunting memoir of her journey through the UK mental health system.

A RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

SHORTLISTED FOR THE RBC TAYLOR PRIZE

In July 1988, Barbara Taylor, then an acclaimed young historian, was admitted to what had once been England's largest psychiatric institution: Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, later known as Friern Hospital.

This searingly honest, thought-provoking and beautifully written memoir is the story of the author's madness years, set inside the wider story of the death of the asylum system in the twentieth century. It is a meditation on her own experience…


Book cover of Bedlam

Mark Stevens Author Of Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum

From my list on the history of English mental health.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an archivist, really, masquerading as a writer. For my day job, I am in charge of archives from across England’s Royal County of Berkshire, spanning from the twelfth century to the present day. I have care of collections from Reading Gaol – of Oscar Wilde fame, the conservators of the River Thames, and also Broadmoor Hospital. The latter was built in 1863 as the first criminal lunatic asylum for England and Wales. It’s a place where true crime and social history interact. My book tries to paint a picture of individuals who did dreadful things but also had a life beyond their mental illness.

Mark's book list on the history of English mental health

Mark Stevens Why did Mark love this book?

Long before the Victorian asylums, there was Bethlem – London’s ancient hospital for lunatics. Like Broadmoor, Bethlem also looked after high-profile criminals, but within a private and charitable institution that was mostly for the capital’s waifs and strays. Bedlam gives you a sense of how mental health developed as a concept from the medieval period to the present day.

By Catharine Arnold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bedlam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Bedlam!' The very name conjures up graphic images of naked patients chained among filthy straw, or parading untended wards deluded that they are Napoleon or Jesus Christ. We owe this image of madness to William Hogarth, who, in plate eight of his 1735 Rake's Progress series, depicts the anti-hero in Bedlam, the latest addition to a freak show providing entertainment for Londoners between trips to the Tower Zoo, puppet shows and public executions.

That this is still the most powerful image of Bedlam, over two centuries later, says much about our attitude to mental illness, although the Bedlam of the…


Book cover of The Devil in Silver

Michele W. Miller Author Of The Lower Power

From my list on supernatural terror with real-world adversity.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write horror and crime thrillers grounded in my unusual lived experience as an author and attorney who has also overcome poverty, incarceration, and violent crime. I feel most fulfilled when I read a book that both entertains and expands me in meaningful ways, immersing me in lives, cultures, and history I might not otherwise know. So I love Social Horror novels, which feature characters who face significant human adversity beyond my own experience and leave me questioning what was worse, the human or the supernatural.

Michele's book list on supernatural terror with real-world adversity

Michele W. Miller Why did Michele love this book?

A man called “Pepper,” who may or may not suffer from mental illness, ends up in a locked mental ward in Queens, New York, where the entire novel takes place.

A beast, who the patients believe is the devil, comes out at night, assaulting and sometimes killing patients. Patient deaths are chalked up to suicide. The engaging, quirky characters—drugged to the gills while warehoused and essentially untreated in a public hospital—share the defining feature of being low-income and unprotected from both the supernatural and human forces that would destroy them. They must take matters into their own hands to protect themselves.

I appreciated the theme of how marginalization and isolation presented as much terror here as the supernatural. Yet, the hope and humor of the characters also kept me engaged and frequently smiling.

By Victor LaValle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Devil in Silver as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • Publishers Weekly

New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward has a new resident. It also has a very, very old one.
 
Pepper is a rambunctious big man, minor-league troublemaker, working-class hero (in his own mind), and, suddenly, the surprised inmate of a budget-strapped mental institution in Queens, New York. He’s not mentally ill, but that doesn’t seem to matter. He is accused of a crime he can’t quite square with his memory. In the darkness of his room on his first…


Book cover of The Alienist

R.H. Emmers Author Of Lynerkim's Dance and Other Stories

From my list on stories you should read (but probably haven’t).

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been attracted to the overlooked, the obscure, the forbidden. Maybe it’s as simple as the fact I grew up in a time when it seemed natural to rebel against norms. Or maybe it’s that I inherited an oddball gene from some ancient ancestor. Anyway, it led me to interesting adventures—hanging out with a crew of gun runners in eastern Turkey—and interesting career choices—strike organizer, private detective, etc. It also shaped my reading and my writing. I read everything, but I’m particularly drawn to the quirkyGrendel, the fiction of Christine Rivera Garza for instance. And in my writing too: Lynerkim, the protagonist of my novella, is undoubtedly an odd duck.

R.H.'s book list on stories you should read (but probably haven’t)

R.H. Emmers Why did R.H. love this book?

If you need inspiration to write strange stories, then read the Brazilian Machado de Assis. In his photos he looks like a prim and proper gentleman, giving no hint he wrote some of the whackiest fiction you’ll ever encounter—for example, one story is told from the perspective of a needle. The Alienist is a favorite. Bacamarte, a man devoted to science, opens an insane asylum in the town of Itaguaí, taking in the mentally ill. But his scientific mind leads him to the inevitable conclusion that he must also include healthy people who, according to his diagnosis, are about to go crazy. Soon, his asylum, Casa Verdi, accommodates the entire town. Then, in the ending of the story… Well, you’ll have to read it yourself to find out. 

By Machado De Assis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Alienist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic work of literature by “the greatest author ever produced in Latin America.” (Susan Sontag)
 
Brilliant physician Simão Bacamarte sacrifices a prestigious career to return home and dedicate himself to the budding field of psychology. Bacamarte opens the first asylum in Brazil hoping to crown himself and his hometown with “imperishable laurels.” But the doctor begins to see signs of insanity in more and more of his neighbors. . . .

With dark humor and sparse prose, The Alienist lets the reader ponder who is really crazy.

***

This is a Hybrid Book.

Melville House HybridBooks combine print and…


Book cover of Things I Know

Siobhán Parkinson Author Of All Shining in the Spring: The Story of a Baby Who Died

From my list on Irish women writers on what it is like to live.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve chosen to recommend fiction by Irish women, because I’m a female Irish writer myself. My own books are mostly for children, but, hey, I’m an adult. As well as a writer I am a retired publisher, a not-quite-retired editor, and an occasional translator, so I tend to engage very closely – OK, obsessively – with text. I have a pretty serious visual impairment, so most of my ‘reading’ is through the medium of audiobooks. I’m never sure if that influences my taste in reading. Anyway, these are the books I’ve liked recently, and hope you do too.

Siobhán's book list on Irish women writers on what it is like to live

Siobhán Parkinson Why did Siobhán love this book?

Theoretically for Young Adults (meaning older teenagers), this one is also for adults of any age. It’s about exclusion, anxiety, depression, suicide, all matters that have touched my own family with tragedy, 

Helena Close knows about mental illness and what it feels like, and she describes it in visceral detail. But she is a sharp and funny writer, and she takes no prisoners when it comes to the false assurances of a certain kind of charlatan ‘counsellor’. 

The heroine of this book seems set to drown in sorrow, but she learns, slowly and with help, how to swim up out of pain and fear towards the light. So uplifting!

By Helena Close,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Things I Know as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Saoirse (18) can't wait to leave school - but just before the Leaving Cert her ex-boyfriend dies by suicide. Everyone blames Saoirse - even Saoirse herself, who cheated on him with his best friend. She is shunned by her schoolmates and suffers unbearable levels of anxiety.


Everything becomes too much, and on the night of the school Debs, Saoirse throws herself into the river - and wakes up in a psychiatric hospital. Slowly, painfully, with the support of a friendly hospital cleaner, her old best friend, her kind and hilarious grandmother, and even her irritating sister, Saoirse regains her sense…


Book cover of Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty, and the Mad-Doctors in England

Mark Stevens Author Of Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum

From my list on the history of English mental health.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an archivist, really, masquerading as a writer. For my day job, I am in charge of archives from across England’s Royal County of Berkshire, spanning from the twelfth century to the present day. I have care of collections from Reading Gaol – of Oscar Wilde fame, the conservators of the River Thames, and also Broadmoor Hospital. The latter was built in 1863 as the first criminal lunatic asylum for England and Wales. It’s a place where true crime and social history interact. My book tries to paint a picture of individuals who did dreadful things but also had a life beyond their mental illness.

Mark's book list on the history of English mental health

Mark Stevens Why did Mark love this book?

I like to write about public Victorian asylums – where the bulk of English people with mental illnesses were admitted.  But the counterpoint is the private system, where the poor, rich mad spent their time in nice surroundings with wacky treatments. Sarah Wise captures this perfectly through a real-life investigation of the people in the attic – think Jane Eyre, or The Woman in White – and how the law sought to protect them.

By Sarah Wise, Sarah Wise,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inconvenient People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A must-read for those who work in the mental health industry, I think most people will find it both eye-opening and provocative.” ―The Guardian

The phenomenon of false allegations of mental illness is as old as our first interactions as human beings. But it took the confluence of the law and medical science, mad-doctors, alienists, priests and barristers, to raise the matter to a level of “science,” capable of being used by conniving relatives, “designing families” and scheming neighbors to destroy people who found themselves in the way, people whose removal could provide their survivors with money or property or…


Book cover of Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us

Lisa Marchiano Author Of When Kids Say They're Trans: A Guide for Parents

From my list on understanding the increase in transgender identification and adolescent mental health.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a therapist and Jungian analyst who has been writing and speaking about the transgender phenomenon since 2016. Across the Anglosphere, teen girls have begun identifying as transgender in significant numbers since around 2011. Many are quickly accessing medical interventions. When I became aware of these trends, I got curious about them. I’m especially fascinated by the way that social and psychological factors can shape our understanding of mental health and mental illness, and I’ve been exploring these topics as they relate to trans adolescents. I’ve worked with trans-identifying young people and their parents, as well as detransitioners. 

Lisa's book list on understanding the increase in transgender identification and adolescent mental health

Lisa Marchiano Why did Lisa love this book?

I loved this book because it addressed what I think is at the heart of much of our mental health crisis – that the stories that we tell ourselves can shape our mental health.

As a therapist, I know intuitively that how we think about our distress can shape the course that our illness takes. Does the story promote resilience and flexibility? Or does it fragilize us and lead to worse mental health?

Aviv tells compelling stories from a number of cultures that helped me explore these important questions further. 

By Rachel Aviv,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Strangers to Ourselves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The highly anticipated debut from the award-winning New Yorker writer Rachel Aviv is a ground-breaking exploration of illness and the mind

Strangers to Ourselves is a compassionate, courageous and riveting look at the ways we talk about and understand ourselves in periods of crisis and distress. Drawing on unpublished journals and letters, along with deep reporting, it follows people who feel as if they have reached the limits of psychiatric explanations for who they are. Their diagnosis, while giving their experiences a name, also shapes their sense of what their future may look like-and their identities, too.

Rachel Aviv is…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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