Book Review: “Guilty by Reason of Insanity,”
By Robert Russell
Published in the Montgazette March 2019
In the wake of the new Netflix documentary series, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” it is fitting that I recently, and by coincidence, read the book “Guilty by Reason of Insanity,” by Yale psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D. Lewis is known for diagnosing serial killer Ted Bundy while he was on death row as manic-depressive.
Published in 1999, this book is a true-crime heavy-hitter. It’s half-memoir, half-compilation of the cases that found their way to Dr. Lewis’s desk during her time at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and later at Yale. Cases include children, women and men with terrifying multiple personalities, who were murderers and serial killers, and executioners. Lewis is a natural-born story-teller, and the details she provides in these harrowing stories paint vivid pictures of gruesome crimes and psychological anomalies.
What’s more, sprinkled throughout the book are tiny chapters about Lewis’s life. She describes her time in medical school, where she met Johnathan Pincus, her then-psychology mentor and her future partner-in-crime– pun intended. She recounts their journey, studying the minds of the criminally violent, starting in juvenile detention centers and slowly moving their way up to death row. Their goal from the start was to dive into the deepest recesses of the minds of those deemed “insane” in order to formulate a psychological profile that would help diagnose future cases. Along the way, they both encountered people who shook the foundations of everything they knew.
One of the things that I liked most about her book was that she included the scientific and legal details of cases. Like a doctor, she didn’t spare the medical jargon, but fully explained in laymen’s terms how these killers came to be the way they were. She also delved into the details surrounding the judicial system and how the nature of the court room changed depending on the case. As a true crime and psychology buff, the extra details kept me captivated.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in true crime, psychology, or even law. It truly did read like a “top-drawer suspense thriller” as the New York Post put it. And as the “true crime” genre continues to grow in popularity, “Guilty by Reason of Insanity” is a secret weapon with more information packed into it than any serial killer documentary.