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Publisher's Summary

More than four hundred abandoned suitcases filled with patients’ belongings were found when Willard Psychiatric Center closed in 1995 after 125 years of operation. They are skillfully examined here and compared to the written record to create a moving—and devastating—group portrait of twentieth-century American psychiatric care.

©2008 Darby Penney and Peter Stastny (P)2014 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

The Lives They Left Behind is a deeply moving testament to the human side of mental illness, and of the narrow margin which so often separates the sane from the mad. It is a remarkable portrait, too, of the life of a psychiatric asylum--the sort of community in which, for better and for worse, hundreds of thousands of people lived out their lives. Darby Penney and Peter Stastny's careful historical (almost archaeological) and biographical reconstructions give us unique insight into these lives which would otherwise be lost and, indeed, unimaginable to the rest of us.” (Oliver Sacks, M.D., Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, Columbia University Artist, and author of Musicophilia)

“The haunting thing about the suitcase owners is that it’s so easy to identify with them.” ( Newsweek)
“In their poignant detail the items helped rescue these individuals from the dark sprawl of anonymity.” ( The New York Times)
“[The authors] spent 10 years piecing together…the lives these patients lived before they were nightmarishly stripped of their identities.” ( Newsday)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

excellent voice - like the Dragnet detective

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Since I was truly curious about the subject of the history of mental health institutionsI found the listen to be time well spent. The authors were documenting many facts and, for most of the book,leaving the listener to sift through what they heard and draw their own conclusions. The narrator stayed even and true to the text. The detective style of narration interjected an ominous truth to the book. (sometimes the lists of what was found in a suitcase mayhave become tedious to listen to, but the point was well made, and with Mr. Paul's voice would send a shiver).

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

Being non-fiction, this book was not a "story" per se. The facts were eerie. The points made by the writing of this book revealed the intense need for changes in the mental health care systems, and the fact that not enough changes have yet occurred remain.

What about Alex Paul’s performance did you like?

I liked Mr. Paul's narration. Serious, consistent.- not getting in the way of the text revealing what the authors were wanting to reveal.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Not really the book I expected

I am currently doing some work at the site of the former Willard Asylum and during a Google search found this book. I expected a book of stories about the people and their lives here. About half or less of the book seems to be about the people. All the rest seemed like a social justice crusade against the past and current mental health system. The book could be titled "All the things they did wrong and still do" While many of the injustices of the past clearly weave into the personal stories it seemed like whole chapters drifted way of the implied subject of the book.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Truly sad and very interesting.

A great interest in preserving the life's of the forgotten. A sad reality of how we treated mentally ill and in many cases those imprisoned against there will. Very descriptive. Only negative at times was the long mundane description of some items found. Overall a wonderful exploration of the mental institutes of the past and the treatment that persons often innocent of any crime or mental problem went through.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Eaten, still digesting.

I was interested in the topic, and was left feeling saddened that this treatment mirrors patients' experiences to this day. I was propelled forward through the stories of individuals and the common reaction I had, was that of anger.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Very very slow moving book

Would you try another book from Darby Penney and Peter Stastny and/or Alex Paul?

Probably not...

What other book might you compare The Lives They Left Behind to and why?

I found the book very slow moving and the narrators voice was very slow as well...I found I could not hold my concentration on what the narrator was saying.

Did Alex Paul do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

The characters were definitely differentiated by each chapter.

Do you think The Lives They Left Behind needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No i do not think this book needs a follow up at all...Not sure what it would say.

1 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Boring

Don't listen to if you are driving. Between the narrator's voice and the subject matter you may not be able to stay awake. Sorry, just one person's opinion.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Vivian Sternwood
  • 05-01-14

Not suitable as an audiobook

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I would recommend the book, but not the audiobook. The book is a compassionate history of Willard psychiatric hospital "inmates" in the early 20th century based on what the researchers found in the suitcases the patients left behind. I knew there were several pictures in the book which couldn't be included in the audiobook but I didn't anticipate how tedious it would be to listen to all the files being read out.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Lives They Left Behind?

It is saddening and infuriating at the same time to listen to all the individuall stories ultimately being reduced to one single narrative: in a mental institution like Willard, the individual stories, skills and personalities of the patients didn't (don't) count. I love how the authors did not only re-iterate the facts they found out about the patients but also put them in a wider context, detailing the history of mental health treatment and its current status.

What aspect of Alex Paul’s performance might you have changed?

The performance was okay, Alex Paul is a good reader and has a pleasant voice. His performance wasn't outstanding in any way but the material didn't lend itself to show off the skill of the narrator.

Was The Lives They Left Behind worth the listening time?

In a way it was, because the book is so moving, but I still wish I had bought the paperback instead of the audiobook.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful