Heather Vacek’s book, Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Illness reminds us that the story of mental illness in the United States is inextricably bound to the story of religion. She traces this history through the lenses of five “paradigmatic Protestants” who devoted their lives to understanding and treating mental illness: Cotton Mather, Benjamin Rush, Dorothea Dix, Anton Boisen, and Karl Menninger. These figures cover the period from the early eighteenth to the late twentieth centuries.

A major strength of this book is the care and attention Vacek exercises in situating each of these figures in their social and historical contexts. She avoids the temptation to lionize any of these figures. Instead, she shows that although motivated by a sincere Christian desire to...

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