He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton
Rating: 4 out of 5 Magical Coffee Cups
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.
Mimi Baird grew up never fully knowing this story, as her family went silent about the father who had been absent for most of her childhood. Decades later, a string of extraordinary coincidences led to the recovery of a manuscript which Dr. Baird had worked on throughout his brutal institutionalization, confinement, and escape. This remarkable document, reflecting periods of both manic exhilaration and clear-headed health, presents a startling portrait of a man who was a uniquely astute observer of his own condition, struggling with a disease for which there was no cure, racing against time to unlock the key to treatment before his illness became impossible to manage.
Fifty years after being told her father would forever be “ill” and “away,” Mimi Baird set off on a quest to piece together the memoir and the man. In time her fingers became stained with the lead of the pencil he had used to write his manuscript, as she devoted herself to understanding who he was, why he disappeared, and what legacy she had inherited. The result of his extraordinary record and her journey to bring his name to light is He Wanted the Moon, an unforgettable testament to the reaches of the mind and the redeeming power of a determined heart.
I like how this book goes back and forth between the Dr. Perry Baird’s view and the hospital doctor’s view. It was interesting to see how Dr. Baird saw his actions (silly things to pass the time) and how the doctors saw it (destructive). I wonder how much truth there was to both sides. Did Dr. B really know what he was doing, did he remember everything exactly as it happened? Did the doctors tell the truth or did they just assume that because he was in a hospital he was destructive and not just bored?
Dr. Baird also describes the horrific “treatments” he was given during his stay at the hospital and he explains how he tried to do what was asked of him to avoid the harsher treatments. You can’t help but feel so awful for him as you read his words. Dr. Baird even mentions how he feels the hospital is understaffed because of the war.
The second half of the book was his daughter’s (Mimi) story and how her life had been without her dad there. Her mother had rarely spoken about her father. Mimi spoke about how and when she started learning more about her father as she reached out to his side of the family. It was heartbreaking to hear about even more “treatments” Dr. Baird had to continue to endure after he had stopped writing his story.
I enjoyed hearing the daughters tale because we learned so much more about what happened to her father before and after his hospital stay.
I have never really read any other books about mental illnesses but this book made me want to learn more. I do love history but I wasn’t sure this would be the book for me. I think if this had been a work of fiction I would have been bored but knowing that these things really did happen to someone made it so engrossing.
Sidenote- I have heard this book is going to be made into a movie with Brad Pitt. I don’t know if he is staring or directing but I must say, I can’t wait to see how this adaptation works out!
I received this book from bloggingforbooks.com in return for an honest review.