Today Kim is bringing you a video review of the coffee table book Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals with photography by Christopher J.Payne and an essay by Oliver Sacks.
Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals
Photographer: Christopher J. Payne
Published: September 4, 2009
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
For more than half the nation’s history, vast mental hospitals were a prominent feature of the American landscape. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, over 250 institutions for the insane were built throughout the United States; by 1948, they housed more than a half million patients.
The blueprint for these hospitals was set by Pennsylvania hospital superintendent Thomas Story Kirkbride: a central administration building flanked symmetrically by pavilions and surrounded by lavish grounds with pastoral vistas.
Kirkbride and others believed that well-designed buildings and grounds, a peaceful environment, a regimen of fresh air, and places for work, exercise, and cultural activities would heal mental illness. But in the second half of the twentieth century, after the introduction of psychotropic drugs and policy shifts toward community-based care, patient populations declined dramatically, leaving many of these beautiful, massive buildings–and the patients who lived in them–neglected and abandoned.
Architect and photographer Christopher Payne spent six years documenting the decay of state mental hospitals like these, visiting seventy institutions in thirty states. Through his lens we see splendid, palatial exteriors (some designed by such prominent architects as H. H. Richardson and Samuel Sloan) and crumbling interiors–chairs stacked against walls with peeling paint in a grand hallway; brightly colored toothbrushes still hanging on a rack; stacks of suitcases, never packed for the trip home.
Accompanying Payne’s striking and powerful photographs is an essay by Oliver Sacks (who described his own experience working at a state mental hospital in his book Awakenings). Sacks pays tribute to Payne’s photographs and to the lives once lived in these places, “where one could be both mad and safe.”
Kim’s Video Review:
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home
Author: Denise Kiernan
Published: September 26, 2017
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.
The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.
Orphaned at a young age, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser claimed lineage from one of New York’s best-known families. She grew up in Newport and Paris, and her engagement and marriage to George Vanderbilt was one of the most watched events of Gilded Age society. But none of this prepared her to be mistress of Biltmore House.
Before their marriage, the wealthy and bookish Vanderbilt had dedicated his life to creating a spectacular European-style estate on 125,000 acres of North Carolina wilderness. He summoned the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to tame the grounds, collaborated with celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000-square-foot chateau, filled it with priceless art and antiques, and erected a charming village beyond the gates. Newlywed Edith was now mistress of an estate nearly three times the size of Washington, DC and benefactress of the village and surrounding rural area. When fortunes shifted and changing times threatened her family, her home, and her community, it was up to Edith to save Biltmore—and secure the future of the region and her husband’s legacy.
The Last Castle is the uniquely American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.
This is a great history book! I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Biltmore has a special place in my heart; I’ve been visiting since I was a kid and it ignited my imagination as a place of finery and magnificence! I’ve said many times that if you haven’t been to visit, you should and I hold to that.
Kiernan laid out not just the history of the house, but the people who built her. George Vanderbilt is the height of refinement and education and Ivan and I have already decided that we need more dapper gentlemen like him. Edith was a classy, yet humble woman who accomplish much. I grew to love them the more I learned and I’m so happy that their legacy survives in that estate.
As a historian, I was happy with the way Kiernan presented the facts. She did extensive research and put all kinds of resources throughout the book. The personal letters were fascinating. I also loved how she focused on the trailblazing that happened at Biltmore. The National Park Service practically started on the estate and the agricultural and forestry development procedures were revolutionary. Overall, this was a great and easy read and I learned a lot!
Here a few pictures of Kim and Ivan at Biltmore:
Carolina Gold Rice: The Ebb and Flow History of a Lowcountry Cash Crop
Author: Richard Schulze
Published: April 1, 2012
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
Carolina Gold, the celebrated variety of rice established in the South Carolina Lowcountry, perhaps saved the fledgling colony at the beginning of the eighteenth century and remained integral to the local economy for nearly two hundred years. However, the labor required to produce it encouraged the establishment of slavery, ultimately contributing to the region’s economic collapse following the Civil War.
Richard Schulze, who reintroduced this crop in South Carolina after nearly a century’s absence, provides this fascinating inside story of an industry that helped build some of the largest fortunes in America. Drawing on both historical research and personal experience, Schulze reveals the legacy of this once-forgotten Lowcountry icon.
I love this little book so much! I’m sure y’all know by now that I’m a nerd, a really weird nerd. And historical nerdiness is my cup of tea. I got so excited when I found this book at the Charles Pinckney Historic Site in Charleston on my last trip. I had read books about rice for papers back when I was in college, Ivan and I went to the rice museum in Georgetown, SC, and I’ve become fascinated with rice production. I’m, by no means, a great historian, but I’m able to fake it pretty well with the things I learned as a history major in college, and one of my greatest pet peeves with history books is when they have no real documentation or evidence for anything so they just speculate. Drives me nuts! But Dr. Schulze did not do that. He stuck with documented, historical fact, without judgement or his own opinion getting in the way.
Revisionism has ruined Southern history and fiction for me. Dr. Schulze didn’t buy into any of that. Obviously, slavery was an integral part of the Southern states, but instead of turning this book into an emotional expose about how wrong slavery was and how horrible the Confederacy and Southerners were, Schulze stayed on topic and stuck with the facts. I appreciated that to no end! He never got boring when describing the technicalities of rice growth and harvesting. I loved how he then made it personal by describing his own attempts at rice cultivation. The numbers and little details of irrigation and ornithology were things I hadn’t considered and knew very little about. He was able to put the industry in a perspective that I’ve never seen before in my own studies of rice culture.
Overall, this was a quick and easy read that gave a plethora of information. I know I’m a weird nerd who finds little things like rice production fascinating and not everyone else does, but I would recommend this book to any historian or anyone wanting to learn about Southern agriculture.[Top]