Book Review: Soldiers Don’t Go Mad

Journal of Psychiatry Reform vol. 10 #9, August 2023

Soldiers Don’t Go Mad


Charles Glass

Penguin Press NY NY

June 2023

ISBN 9781984877956

Reviewed by

James Alan Bourgeois, O.D., M.D.

 Vice Chair, Hospital Psychiatry Services

Health Sciences Clinical Professor

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

University of California, Davis Medical Center

Charles Glass’ Soldiers Don’t Go Mad is a beautifully written account of the treatment for PTSD (contemporaneously known as “shell shock”) in British officers at Scotland’s Craiglockhart War Hospital during World War 1.  In what amounts to an early residential psychiatric treatment facility, UK officers with PTSD received a range of psychotherapy and social interventions (medication interventions were minimal at the time) with notable success in improving symptoms and function in many of them.  The management of PTSD continues to be an important aspect of military psychiatric practice. Glass’ research into the treatment at Craiglockhart gives an accurate picture of the patients’ experiences.  

There was, of course, a moral dilemma involved for the treating physicians.  Officers who clinically recovered were often (if improved enough) returned to the Western Front, where some were killed, while others were at risk for PTSD/shell shock recurrence.  Detailed accounts of the lives of some of the officer patients address this dilemma poignantly.  


A brilliant counterpoint of literature, in addition to medicine, runs through the book.  Two of the patients were the noted World War 1 poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, both British officers, who met while patients at Craiglockhart.  At the time, Sassoon was both a decorated hero (he had been awarded the Military Cross for his service in France) and an already accomplished poet.  Owen was at the time unpublished and his military service was less notable than Sassoon’s. They developed a close friendship while at Craiglockhart and both returned to duty; Owen was tragically killed a week before the Armistice.  Sassoon and Owen were noted for the realism of their poetry and the extreme/traumatic experiences of their fellow soldiers. Most of Owens’ poetry was published posthumously; in a poignant twist, his family was notified of his death on Armistice Day 1918.


This book is a must-read for those interested in the early history of psychiatry, the tragedy of World War 1, PTSD, and (perhaps most keenly) on the redemptive role of poetry and other literature in coping with a world where the present and future appeared permanently shattered.  It is remarkable that even 100 years after it ended, and innumerable books written, the cataclysmic tragedy of World War 1 continues to transfix, haunt, and inform us. 


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