XYY Men

Geneticists have long argued about the effects of having an extra male chromosome, a condition found in 1 of 1,000 men A battered paperback entitled The XYY Man, by Kenneth Royce, leans in a corner of my bookshelf. It’s a spy novel that chronicles the adventures of “Spider” Scott, an ex-felon who wants to become law-abiding, but…

Read More

A set of dusty boxes: The arresting origins of The Nazi and the Psychiatrist

The portrait that Göring signed to Kelley

My book The Nazi and the Psychiatrist has just been published. It had strange beginnings. When one dead man passes you a tip about another, you pay attention. Years ago, while researching my book The Lobotomist about Walter Freeman, the psychiatrist and neurologist who pioneered lobotomy for mentally ill patients, I read the late Dr. Freeman’s writings on a…

Read More

A Pioneering Pop Psychologist

Joseph Jastrow (Wikimedia Commons)

Years ago I read somewhere about an eminent experimental psychologist who suffered a mental breakdown, endured years of depression, and abandoned the laboratory to instead help lay people apply the ideas of modern psychology to their lives. Joseph Jastrow (Wikimedia Commons)  That man, I found out, was Joseph Jastrow (1863-1944), and I’ve written a post about his…

Read More

Hypnotism and Its Past

Actor Lumsden Hare as the scheming hypnotist in Svengali, a 1931 film adaptation of Trilby

[In earlier posts that you’ll find here and here, I’ve written about my fascination with hypnotism and my interviews and encounters with hypnotists of various types. In this post, I continue the series by scratching the surface of hypnotism’s history and looking at its popular portrayal.] For centuries, hypnotism has suffered from an image problem. The pleasant experience…

Read More

A Murderer Trapped by Truth Serum

William Heirens in 2004

I recently wrote a post in the Wonders & Marvels blog about the history of truth serum. I didn’t have space in that post to mention an interesting article from the February 1960 issue of Popular Science that gave some accounts of various truth serum drugs in use. I especially liked the magazine’s anecdote of Chicago criminal William Heirens, who police…

Read More

An Interview with a Stage Hypnotist

Last month, I posted the first in a series of short essays adapted from an article on hypnotists and hypnotism that I wrote for (but was never published in) Harper’s magazine several years ago. What follows is the second part of the series, which focuses on my meeting with a working stage hypnotist. I met Frank Pruden, who uses…

Read More

Savants in the News

Kim Peek, the autistic savant who inspired the movie Rain Man

Last month I wrote a post on my experiences with Max Weisberg, a mentally disabled savant who put his numerical talents to work as a sports bookmaker. I’ve long been interested in people like Max with an extraordinary mental gift amid deficits or disabilities. Commonly called savants (sometimes with the obsolete and inaccurate prefix idiot), those people often…

Read More

At a Convention of Hypnotists

This past weekend, The Guardian of London published an excellent article by Vaughan Bell on the resurgence of hypnotism in the treatment of a variety of behavioral disorders. The report reminded me of an article I wrote six years ago on assignment for Harper’s magazine about the conflicts between clinicians who practice therapeutic hypnosis, lay hypnotists who cover some of the same ground,…

Read More