Being sane has long been defined simply as that bland and nebulous state of not being mentally ill. While writings on madness fill entire libraries, until now no one has thought to engage exclusively with the idea of sanity.
In a society governed by indulgence and excess, madness is the state of mind we identify with most keenly. Though ultimately destructive, it is often credited as the wellspring of genius, individuality, and self-expression. Sanity, on the other hand, confounds us. One of the world's most respected psychoanalysts and original thinkers, Adam Phillips redresses this historical imbalance. He strips our lives back to essentials, focusing on how we—as human beings, parents, lovers, as people to whom work matters—can make space for a sane and well-balanced attitude to living. In a world saturated by tales of dysfunction and suffering, he offers a way forward that is as down-to-earth and realistic as it is uplifting and hopeful.
In classic psychoanalytic style, Phillips strips our lives down to the fundamentals to illustrate the delicate balance between sanity and insanity. Sanity, he notes, "has never been a popular word, or indeed... a condition one might write a book about." Madness, on the other hand, is dramatic and all too visible. We have psychiatrists, neurologists and researchers dedicated to studying and treating madness, but not even a quantifiable definition of saneness. Deftly guiding readers through historical and literary uses of "sane" and "mad," Phillips, a British psychoanalyst (On Flirtation), cites Thomas Carlyle, R.D. Laing, Melanie Klein, D.W. Winnicott and Richard Dawkins, among others, to illustrate the stark absence of a definitive definition of sanity. In Hamlet, for instance, Polonius uses the word "madness" to describe Hamlet's inventiveness and eloquent intelligence: he admires Hamlet's madness. Phillips examines the presence and essence of madness in all aspects of modern life in intriguing and disturbingly frank chapters on the chaos of raising children, the turmoil of adolescence, sexual appetites and the pursuit of wealth. His arguments, both thought provoking and provocative, may affect future definitions of sanity and madness, and readers are left with a fresh awareness of what it really means to be sane.