Books that Explore Mental Illness

atkins-bookshelf-booksAristotle once observed “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” Indeed, one of the central themes of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet King of Denmark is madness. In the span of just a few acts, Ophelia, who is betrothed to Hamlet, slips into madness. In Act IV, Scene V, a gentleman speaks to Queen Gertrude about Ophelia’s troubled mental state:

She is importunate, indeed distract / Her mood will needs be pitied.

She speaks much of her father; says she hears / There’s tricks i’ the world; and hems, and beats her heart;
Spurns enviously at straws; speaks things in doubt, / That carry but half sense: her speech is nothing,
Yet the unshaped use of it doth move / The hearers to collection; they aim at it,
And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts; / Which, as her winks, and nods, and gestures yield them,
Indeed would make one think there might be thought, / Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily.

Ophelia, however, does not wander through the Halls of Literature forlorn; Aristotle would agree that she is in good company with dozens of other well-known literary characters and real people who have struggled with mental illness or madness, whether real or imagined. Below are some notable books that explore mental illness as compiled by the editors of AbeBooks:

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

Daughter of the Queen of Sheba: A Memoir by Jacki Lyden
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters
Switching Time by Dr. Richard Baer
Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing by Judith L. Rapoport
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
The Outsider: A Journey Into My Father’s Struggle With Madness by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
The Quiet Room by Amanda Bennett and Lori Schiller
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Well Enough Alone by Jennifer Traig

Read related posts: Who Are the Most Influential Characters in Literature?
The Books that Shaped America
Banned Books that Shaped America
Who Are the Greatest Shakespearean Characters?

For further reading:


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