The President and the Lunatic

After assassinating President Garfield, a lunatic gunman mounted an insanity defense, which the jury--and the nation--rejected despite compelling evidence to the contrary

One warm summer night in 1881, a scrawny, nervous man sat in his boarding house a few blocks from the White House. Outside his window, gaslights flickered and horses clopped over cobblestones, but Charles Guiteau barely noticed. For six weeks now, a divine inspiration had festered in his fevered brain. The president, God told Guiteau, had to be “removed.” Read more »

Agents Of Change

You’ve probably never heard of them, but these ten people changed your life. Each of them is a big reason why your world today is so different from anyone’s world in 1954

For want of nails, kingdoms are won and lost. We all know that. The shoe slips, the horse stumbles, the army dissolves in retreat. But who designed the nails? Who hammered the nails? Who invented the nail-making machinery? Who figured out how to market the nails in neat plastic blister packs hung from standardized wire racks in hardware stores? • The house of history, that clever balloon frame of statistics and biographies in which we shelter our sense of tradition, of progress, of values gained and lost, is nailed together with anonymity.Read more »

Shellshock

Let’s call him Frank. “He was in the war” is how adults explained Frank’s odd behavior a generation ago. As he walked through the small town then, his gait was clumsy, his clothes disheveled, and he seemed to go nowhere in particular. One could drive through any part of town and chance to see Frank on the corner, his face at once drawn and blank, as he was waiting to cross a street where the traffic never ceased. Sometimes he carried a paper bag, clutched as though it were filled with precious things.Read more »

Sigmund Freud’s Sortie To America

The Father of Psychoanalysis came, saw, conquered—and didn’t like it much

In 1908 the American medical profession was becoming aware of a new method of treating mental disease. It had first been advocated during the 1890’s by two Viennese doctors, Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud. Breuer ceased to practice the method, but Freud had developed the theory on which it rested, had described its applications to everyday life in a number of books, notably The Interpretation of Dreams , and had become the center of a small group of supporters.Read more »