In this extraordinary memoir, neuroscientist Andrew Lees explains how William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and troubled drug addict, played an unlikely part in his medical career.Read more
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This is not just a wonderfully left-field addition to the Burroughs literature, but an important polemic for more humane and imaginative medical research. I was sorry to reach the end.
Herbert Penton – The Fortean Times
It is hard to believe that this extraordinary memoir is not fiction, but every word of AJ Lees’s Mentored by a Madman turns out to be rooted in hospital life and literary experience. Andrew Lees is an internationally distinguished neurologist, Britain’s leading Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s expert. He is also a one-time collaborator with the late (and great) Oliver Sacks, and himself a gifted writer who was not afraid to apply the deductive methods of Sherlock Holmes to diagnose his patients.
Robert McCrum, The Observer
A remarkable and genre-bending book, Mentored by a Madman: The William Burroughs Experiment is an autobiography, a medical memoir, a work of literary criticism, and also an essay about the state of medicine. The latter aspect of the book is disturbing—it does not make for comfortable reading, and brings into question many of our deepest assumptions, and capitalism’s attitude towards medical research. Above all, though, the book is a subjective account of a neurologist’s experiences in the ward and laboratory. Like Sacks’s work, it is compelling, sensitive, and compassionate.
Jonathan Taylor, The Writer’s Cookbook
In the book’s final part, Lees travels in William Burroughs’s footsteps to the Colombian Amazon to take ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic potion that Burroughs described as ‘the ultimate fix’. Overwhelmed by convulsive nausea and scintillating visions, he lurches into a new dimension of being in which ‘I understand for the first time how during hurricanes, chair-bound victims of Parkinson’s disease can magically override’ their condition. Like his disreputable mentor, he resolves to swim against the tide – to ‘fly crookedly in my curiosity for cures’
Mike Jay, The Literary Review
Mentored by a Madman is the story of Andrew Lees' uncommon career in neurology, with his many scientific insights into movement disorders, his rapport with the past, and his talent for literary expression. Creative inspiration in neuroscience, Lees tells us, can come from unlikely sources—the notebooks of Richard Spruce, great 19th-century botanical explorer of Brazil; and Burroughs, the maverick interpreter of drug experience. There are parallels with the writings of Oliver Sacks, especially when patients enter the narrative. To a greater degree, though, this book inhabits the neurologist's inner world—observing, attending to detail, engaged in detective work.
Peter Kempster, Neurology
This book is highly recommended to anyone who wants to reimagine the magic of neurology, science, life, the universe, and everything.
The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry