Cahalan intersperses her research into the Rosenhan experiment with fascinating, and dispiriting, history about the mistreatment of mentally ill people throughout the ages ... Cahalan is clearly passionate about the subject matter, and her outrage makes The Great Pretender an urgent, personal book. But she's also an incredibly dogged investigative reporter, tracking every lead she gets fully and with a real determination to get to the truth. Her findings are undoubtedly discouraging, but they're also undeniably important ... She's also an absolutely incredible writer. The Great Pretender reads, in parts, like a suspense novel, with the reader unable to stop turning the pages. That's not to say it's sensationalistic or lurid at all — Cahalan is a measured author, but her book is a clarion call, and she writes with a real sense of urgency and with strong, self-assured prose ... With Brain on Fire, Cahalan proved she was an uncommonly courageous journalist, and her follow-up cements her place in the ranks of the country's sharpest writers of nonfiction. The Great Pretender is an essential book, and a plea for the world to come to terms with the way we're treating some of our most vulnerable people.
This vital book, full of intelligence and brio, is a must-read for anyone who has mental illness issues somewhere in their life — i.e., everyone ... though some questions remain unanswered, Cahalan crowns the work with a conclusion that offers chilling data about the credibility of research in all fields of science — yet finds a ray of hope for the benighted field of psychiatry.
... absorbing ... the kind of story that has levels to it, only instead of a townhouse it’s more like an Escher print ... reads like a detective story, with Cahalan revealing tantalizing clues at opportune moments so we can experience the thrills of discovery alongside her. Her voice is warm and often charming, though she has a weakness for whimsical asides ... But such amiability was probably what got some reluctant sources to talk ... Without Cahalan’s intrepid reporting, the truth of Rosenhan and his paper might have been lost ... Instead of arrogance, her book counsels humility.
... a fascinating, nuanced and engrossing journey to better understand the study that led so many in a field to question whether it really understood itself. Cahalan researched The Great Pretender over the course of five years, but the pages practically turn themselves. It's absorbing, sometimes sobering, sometimes seriously funny. Cahalan's narration makes the reading great fun, with an urgency occasionally akin to a thriller ... a multifaceted portrait of a study that, no matter its complications, fundamentally shook the foundations of psychiatry ... She raises more questions than answers, but along the way Cahalan helps us learn how to ask better questions about what madness is, how we should name it and how we might better care for those it afflicts.
Cahalan’s exasperation with the investigative dead ends, particularly on the identities of Rosenhan’s faux-mad accomplices, leaps off the page ... This is a well-crafted, gripping narrative that succeeds on many levels. Cahalan, who gained the trust of Rosenhan’s family, is meticulous and sensitive in her research; compelling and insightful in her writing. She accurately conveys the troubles that have haunted psychiatry over the past half-century ... her book, which I hope wins awards, has immense value as a historical account.
... brilliant ... [Cahalan] diligently traces and interviews people associated with the study, the circumstances of which became increasingly suspect. In the end, she provides a convincing argument that Rosenhan largely fabricated his research ... Indispensable reading for aficionados of Cahalan’s Brain on Fire and Merve Imre’s The Personality Brokers.
The Great Pretender is an account of Cahalan’s own research. In addition to Rosenhan’s study, she weaves in glimpses of other similar experiments, such as Nellie Bly’s well-documented experience as a journalist going undercover in a psychiatric hospital. The book is a detailed examination of psychiatry in the decades since the publication of Rosenhan’s groundbreaking, if elusive, study.
... compulsively readable ... Cahalan, having unearthed these damning caveats, is not as damning as she might be ... Is it possible, as Chief Bromden observed in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, that Rosenhan’s findings represented 'the truth even if it didn’t happen'? Cahalan is honest enough as a writer to leave that question hanging, having presented important and spirited cases both for the prosecution and the defence.
A gripping, insightful read...probes the gaps that medical science has yet to fill when it comes to understanding mental illness ... The book has the urgency of a call to action ... Having described the horrors of 19th century asylums, Cahalan delivers a bold verdict.
Brain on Fire was a tense, yet ultimately reassuring read, largely because of the interventions of that one doctor who saw things others missed. But the figure at the center of Cahalan's new book is more vexed and, as a result, The Great Pretender tells a blurrier story about diagnoses and outcomes ... Cahalan seems at sea at this end of this book. I think she went in intending to write one kind of book — about a reformer and his crusade to expose the tyranny of psychiatric labels — and, then, inadvertently ended up writing an exposé about the faulty policing of scientific research papers and the professionals who publish them. The Great Pretender is still worth reading, because it illuminates a game-changing moment in the history of psychiatry in this country; it just isn't as satisfying a book as Brain on Fire because it ends in the muddled middle of things. The patient, so to speak — in this case, the field of psychiatry itself —remains riddled with afflictions, without a sharp-eyed diagnostician at the door, ready to save the day.
... a deeply researched and daring revisionist history ... Cahalan takes apart Rosenhan’s work as though disassembling a jigsaw puzzle. By the conclusion of the narrative, one wonders whether Rosenhan did anything that could meaningfully be described as research at all ... is about far more than one researcher—however prominent—and the influence of his misconduct. Cahalan places his story in the context of a much larger crisis in the field, a veritable unraveling ... Cahalan’s research is dogged and her narrative riveting, leading us from red herring to clue and back with the dexterity of the best mystery novelists. Then she builds her case like a skilled prosecuting attorney ... Yet in the end, her verdict is somewhat tempered ... She describes the study as 'flawed' rather than fabricated—refusing to weigh in on whether the missing six pseudopatients exist at all. But like Peter Falk as the television detective, Columbo, one senses she is asking questions to which deep down she now already knows the answers. Sometimes, in spite of the overwhelming evidence, it can be hard to voice a final diagnosis.
... gripping ... Cahalan follows all the leads like a bloodhound, in particular trying to uncover the identities of the patients. Her pursuit reads like a well-tempered mystery being picked apart, with tantalizing questions for which many of the answers are just out of reach ... Cahalan draws a vivid and critical picture of Rosenhan and the ramifications of his most prominent work ... A well-told story fraught with both mystery and real-life aftershocks that set the psychiatric community on its ear.
Cahalan sets a new standard for investigative journalism in this fascinating investigation ... Her impeccable inquiry into the shadowy reality of Rosenhan’s study makes an urgent case that the psychological and psychiatric fields must recover the public trust that 'Rosenhan helped shatter.'