Eye-opening and vigorously researched ... May, a former lawyer, guides us through the ensuing legal battle, explicating the motives and actions of the various parties... without losing the reader in the more tedious procedural twists and turns ... May approaches the question of Randolph’s madness not with a modern clinical diagnosis, which he deems impossible, but from the perspective of how insanity was understood both legally and medically in the period. He also situates Randolph’s planned manumission in biographical and historical context ... What feels less consistently centered here are the 'madman' and the '400' of May’s subtitle. I would have liked to hear more from Randolph himself... and to have had more detailed portrayals of the individuals he enslaved, whose experiences are often generalized under the term 'slaves.'
May brilliantly captures these extraordinary events with his compelling, meticulously documented and beautifully written A Madman’s Will ... May includes a fascinating look at the legal and medical framework the courts used to examine Randolph’s sanity after his death ... This important book should be of interest to a wide range of readers interested in American history.
May lucidly untangles the legal proceedings and draws vivid character sketches of Randolph and others, while building an irrefutable case that freedom is only the first step to equality. This is history at its finest.