Title: He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him
Author: Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton
Date finished: 3/28/15
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Pages in book: 250
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Blurb from the cover:
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.
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.
My rating: 3.75 stars out of a scale of 5
My review: This book will count towards my “Bookish Bingo” reading challenge, marking off the “Mental Illness” square. I can’t remember where I first saw this book but it immediately caught my interest. Mimi Baird never knew why her father (Dr. Perry Baird) disappeared or what really happened to him, but years later she obtains his manuscripts and discovers that he suffered from manic depression and that his disappearances were due to his staying at various mental institutions during his manic episodes. His manuscripts detail his care and treatments as well as different details of his life after he disappeared from her life. This book combines notes from the mental institutions where Dr. Baird stayed, narratives from his manuscript, as well as letters between Dr. Baird and various peers and friends.
The first half of the book was difficult for me as this is where the bulk of the writing from Dr. Baird’s manuscript was included. As Mimi describes in a later passage, Perry alternates between a clear line of thinking and being eloquent and scientific in thought, and ramblings of delusions. At certain points in his writings it was hard to tell if the scene Perry was describing was one of his own imagination or something that actually happened. Also the differences between what Perry describes of his actions in the mental hospitals and what the medical record notes describe are slightly different, making it difficult for the reader to know what is real and what is not. This did not at all detract from the seriousness or the subject matter discussed within the memoir and only compounded the ways in which a mental disorder can distort reality for the patient.
The second half of the book was mostly a narrative written by Mimi Baird, describing her journeys in compiling this book and also in learning more about the father she never really knew. I found this narrative to be very moving and extremely touching. I thought that this book was well put together and was a very interesting look into the mind of an extremely intelligent man suffering from manic depression.
The bottom line: I found this book very interesting. While the first half of the book was slightly tough to get through, the daughter’s narratives in the second half added such emotion to the book. Very well done. I would recommend.