He Wanted The Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird and his Daughter’s Quest to Know Him (Crown Publishing, 2015) by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton.
On He Wanted the Moon, I worked as a co-writer with author Mimi Baird to craft her memoir of her father, Dr. Perry Baird. Dr. Baird all but vanished from Mimi's life when she was barely six years old—she grew up never knowing what happened to him. Fifty years later, she inherited a manuscript, written by her father in 1944 while he was suffering from manic depression and incarcerated in a State mental institution. The book brings together Dr. Baird's manuscript with Mimi’s journey of discovery to know her father, alongside photographs, letters and medical records. He Wanted the Moon has been compared classics of mental illness such as An Unquiet Mind and Darkness Visible.
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Praise for He Wanted the Moon
“An extraordinary Möbius strip of a book…Autobiography, biography, science, history and literature all in one, as instructive as any textbook and utterly impossible to put down…The text of Dr. Baird’s manuscript is haunting. The tone is one a suspense writer might struggle to sustain.” —The New York Times
“Extraordinary…a remarkably eloquent account of mental illness, reminiscent of Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted…The elder Baird’s narrative is cinematic, featuring Ratched-like nurses and an escape scene straight out of The Fugitive… [Dr. Baird] never really knew his daughter — or her achievement in telling this story.” —The Washington Post
“Baird’s lonely, angry, grief-stricken, and occasionally grandiose account of his illness and its shattering costs is the reason we can’t put [this book] down. His sharply detailed recollections are sometimes sane and sometimes not, but his writing is lucid even when his thinking isn’t. His manuscript is a plea to understand his experience and, by extension, others’.” —The Boston Globe
“He Wanted the Moon is one of the most disturbing and profoundly moving books I’ve read in years, and one of the great father-daughter books of our time. It will take its place as a classic in the literature of breakdown, alongside Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind and William Styron’s Darkness Visible. The brilliant Dr. Perry Baird’s memoir lets you see up close what it is like to go through the most manic phases of bipolar disorder—it is a nightmare, but this book is a damn wonder. Through it, Mimi Baird has finally given her father the credit he was due.” —Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and Death of Santini
“Powerful, fascinating, and completely unique. This heartbreaking book is a one-of-a-kind first person window into the world of psychiatric illness before the era of drug therapies in this country. Reading He Wanted the Moon is a bit like discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls—it is one of the most eloquent, powerful and important accounts of mental illness ever put to paper.” —David Isay, founder of StoryCorps and author of Listening is An Act of Love and Ties that Bind
“Thanks to a daughter’s brave determination to excavate her absentee father’s life, we are gifted with deep personal insight into a brilliant but sick mind that could have been lost forever. This is a truly important book—a devastatingly honest account of mental illness that provides personal insight into long-ranging travesties of psychiatric care in the U.S. Unforgettable.” —Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire
“Dr. Perry Baird’s vivid account of his own madness, and the treatment he received, is as remarkable as it is disturbing. By sharing her family’s story, Mimi Baird has certainly done a great service to her father’s memory. But she’s also made a significant contribution to the literature of mental health. He Wanted The Moon is a poignant book, and, I believe, an important one.” —Alexandra Styron, author of Reading My Father
“He Wanted the Moon does for mental illness what The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks did for the science of cancer: at once reveal suffering and heal it through knowledge. By allowing her father to be heard, Mimi Baird gives voices to all Americans silenced by mental illness down the decades. A miraculous story told in a miracle of a book.” —Amity Shlaes, author of Coolidge and The Forgotten Man
“Here is how you know you have just read a wonderful book: You immediately begin telling everybody you know about it, which is exactly what I did when I finished He Wanted the Moon.” —Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic and Mad in America
“He Wanted the Moon details the horrendous treatment commonly given to patients at a time when there was no known way ameliorating the dangerous and self-destructive behavior that often characterizes manic-depression. This is a fascinating and informative book which I would highly recommend.” —Dr. Elliot Valenstein, author of Blaming the Brain and professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan
“Mimi Baird’s short book about her father’s long struggle with mental illness is a tale within a tale. She longed to know why he had simply disappeared one day from her life, and what she found was his own vivid account of watching himself slide into darkness. Mimi has performed a quiet miracle, giving life back to a man everyone wanted to forget.” —Thomas Powers, Pulitzer-Prize winner and author of The Killing of Crazy Horse