Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The Sanity Inspectors

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 21 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6350
  1. Chris Maloney, consultant psychiatrist, Highgate, London
  1. chrismaloney{at}

In the novel The Sanity Inspectors a provincial psychiatrist learns to draw the fine line between sanity and madness in a large asylum in the 1930s. The book features familiar characters (benevolent teachers, earnest pupils, idealistic clergymen, and so on) to drive a deceptively rigorous discussion of key questions that beset psychiatry to this day. How do we define madness? What are the risks of using social norms as the touchstone for normality? Can we accept a pluralistic reality? And, if so, could society continue to function?

The book tracks two ongoing conversations, one between Dr Robert Vossmenge and his teachers, who view him as too easily …

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