Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Dr. Perry Baird was a rising medical star in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early in his career, ahead of his time, he grew fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he began to suffer from it himself. By the time the results of his groundbreaking experiments were published, Dr. Baird had been institutionalized multiple times, his medical license revoked, and his wife and daughters estranged. He later received a lobotomy and died from a consequent seizure, his research incomplete, his achievements unrecognized.
Baird’s daughter, Mimi grew up mostly not knowing her father, as he was hospitalized when she was young. Fifty years later, a family member sent his manuscript and she knew his story must be told.
He Wanted the Moon is half Dr. Perry’s story, part Mimi’s. She bookends Perry’s manuscript with details of her life and the part he plays, but the most interesting part is definitely the manic genius that is Perry Baird. As he cycles into his own horrifying madness, he strives desperately to find a cure.
Up to this point, I’ve read mostly about the depressive side of bipolar disorder. I’ve never seen such an intense form of mania. This will be shocking to some of you–it shocked me! It’s part scary, part fascinating. He Wanted the Moon has been optioned for a movie with Brad Pitt, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this is portrayed. Hopefully, the director and actors really study and respect those with mental illness–it has the potential to be a really great movie if they do!
This is another great brain geek book, but it’s also just a really great story. Kind of an adult Flowers for Algernon in reverse. The more Dr. Baird’s brain deteriorates, so his writing goes too, and it becomes harder to believe what you read. The study is both fascinating and sad, and it’s impossible not to feel for everyone involved.
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