He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him, by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton
American society has come a long way on a variety of hotly contested issues: sexual orientation, race, gender identity. However, one issue that remains shrouded in mystery and shame for its sufferers is mental illness. In Mimi Baird’s non-fiction debut, He Wanted the Moon, a daughter seeks to release her long-deceased father from the shackles of a legacy tainted by disease.
As a child, Mimi Baird was aware of her father’s absence, like a missing limb, but did not learn the truth about his painful struggle as a rising star in the medical community suffering from Manic-Depressive Disorder (now known as Bipolar Disorder). Dr. Baird was fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of the Manic-Depressive Disorder, but his research was cut short as his own diagnosis lead to institutionalization. His daughter discovers, through a combination of coincidence and research, a long-forgotten manuscript her father had written during his time in two mental institutions in 1944.
Dr. Perry Baird’s prose hauntingly illustrates a man trapped inside a brilliant but afflicted mind, subjected to a series of archaic treatments long since considered inhumane. Paired with Dr. Baird’s own words are contextual documents including hospital reports and photographs of Dr. Baird that shine a light on the disconnect between what Dr. Baird was experiencing and what was being observed by those around him.
At the heart of Baird’s book (written with Eve Claxton), equal parts memoir, science, and health, is the story of a daughter struggling with the loss of a father and her quest to gain both peace of mind for herself and to let her father, at last, tell his tale.
Praise for He Wanted the Moon:
“Extraordinary…a remarkably eloquent account of mental illness, reminiscent of Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted. Perry Baird emerges as thoughtful and at times eerily aware of his condition as well as his inability to elude either its symptoms or the primitive treatments for them…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
“The book is autobiography, biography, science, history and literature all in one, as instructive as any textbook and utterly impossible to put down.” – Abigail Zuger, M.D., The New York Times
“Perry Baird was a pioneer in attempting to understand the workings of manic depression…In bringing her father’s harrowing, tragic, and moving story to life, Mimi Baird celebrates him and gives voice to the terrible suffering the mentally ill once endured, and still do today, and challenges the prejudices and misperceptions the public continues to have about the disease.” –Publishers Weekly