The Lives They Left Behind

  • by Darby Penney, Peter Stastny
  • Narrated by Alex Paul
  • 8 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.


What the Critics Say

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)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.

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- Jennifer

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.
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- Bradi Kirkpatrick

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-04-2014
  • Publisher: Audible Studios