Wednesday, April 8, 2015

He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird

A mid-century doctor's raw, unvarnished account of his own descent into madness, and his daughter's attempt to piece his life back together and make sense of her own.
Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Dr. Perry Baird was a rising medical star in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early in his career, ahead of his time, he grew fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he began to suffer from it himself. By the time the results of his groundbreaking experiments were published, Dr. Baird had been institutionalized multiple times, his medical license revoked, and his wife and daughters estranged. He later received a lobotomy and died from a consequent seizure, his research incomplete, his achievements unrecognized. 

I requested this book from Blogging for Books to review because I was immediately fascinated by the subject. I've read a couple of other books dealing with the subject of manic depression disorder (now called bipolar disorder) such as An Unquiet Mind and Brain on Fire (both really great!). 

He Wanted the Moon is a daughter's quest to know and understand the father she never really got to know as a child. Dr. Perry Baird was a brilliant Harvard educated dermatologist who suffered from manic depression. After experiencing his first manic episode and being diagnosed he became interested in studying this disorder. He was convinced there had to be a biochemical root to manic depression. Trying to identify this biochemical root he started conducting an experiment but never got to finish it because of his disorder getting out of control. He was institutionalized multiple times and got to write about his experience with the brutality of psychiatric treatments for manic depression. His intention was to write a book about it, but never got the chance to do so.
Mimi Baird, Dr. Baird's daughter started on a journey to get to know her father, his life and illness after receiving all of his notes and manuscripts. She was determined to study it all and put it together piece by piece, this way continuing the work of his father and getting the recognition she felt he deserved for his medical discoveries.  

The book is divided in two main parts. The first part consists of Dr. Baird's notes and manuscripts put together with medical records and psychiatric evaluations to explain his physical and mental state before and while being institutionalized. This first part uncovers some horrific psychiatric treatments used to "treat" manic depression such as constant restraint, cold water packing, lobotomy. From Dr. Baird's notes, the reader can identify his manic state based on his hallucinations and paranoia that sometimes interferes with his normal thought process.

The second part consists of Mimi Baird's narrations. She begins by evoking her childhood and the limited perspective and information she had on her father's situation. When she grew older and came in contact with some of his father's manuscripts she started to research his live and get in contract with some of his father's friends. I really admired her willingness to go through this much work to get this book done. I really believe it wasn't easy. At one point she mentioned the fact that it was a therapeutic process for her, because she found a new identity, getting to know her father. She is determined not only to write this book but to get recognition for her father's scientific discoveries as well: 
"I couldn't help but hold up my father's research alongside Dr. Cade's. Like Cade, my father believed that some biochemical abnormality or deficiency  might be in part responsible for manic depression. While Cade's experiments led to one of the key scientific discoveries of our time, my father's research was forever halted by his illness. It is impossible to know how my father would have developed if he had been given more time, but I can't help but feel that he had come tantalizingly close."

It was an interesting read, I was intrigued by the story but horrified by the details of it; at the same time impressed by the determination to bring a great but tragic story to a beautiful end.  

Mimi Baird is a Bostonian, a graduate of Colby-Sawyer College. After working in the Dean's office at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she later moved to Woodstock, Vermont, where she worked as a manager at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. This is where she met a surgeon who had once known her father, a meeting that prompted her quest to finally understand her father's life and legacy. Mimi has two children and four grandchildren. This is her first book. 

*I have requested this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. 

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