Mentored by a Madman is an original and interesting book from one of the world's leading experts in the field of movement disorders. Instead of writing an authoritative neurological textbook, Andrew Lees chooses to highlight the importance of making neurology romantic for everyday clinical practice and research. He achieves his goal by describing how William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and troubled drug addict, inspired him to discover a ground-breaking treatment for Parkinson disease. Lees' book covers his journeys to the Amazonian rainforest in search of cures, as well as his self-experimentation as part of the search for the therapeutic answers his patients craved. The quote featuring on the book cover sums up the character of Lees' mentor: ‘The time has come for the line between literature and science, a purely arbitrary line, to be erased’. The whole book is a powerful plea for the search of mentors who teach values, rather than mere facts. There are many reasons for the return of imagination to medical research. For example, the final chapter alludes to a phenomenon called ‘altamirage’ (a variation of serendipity): the importance of incorporating an individual's personal hobbies and interests into their everyday job. Lees convincingly argues that this phenomenon results in advances in neurology and psychiatry (especially in the field of therapeutics) more often than one would be prepared to admit.
The beautiful prose and original contents suggest comparisons with the writings of authors of the calibre of Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, and Oliver Sacks. Lees' words at times sound like a genuine confession: ‘Burroughs […] made me entertain doubts about the dogmas of science and the preconceptions and received opinions that compromise objectivity. He reminded me to go on challenging authority and to try to break down my own ingrained outdated habits.…’. The fearless challenging attitude towards authority and establishment is stated even more explicitly: ‘Blade runner: a movie was a warning that the National Health Service was under threat from Government appointed quangos and people who had no feel for what looking after sick people involves’. ‘Honesty’, ‘humanity’ and ‘humility’ are words that come to mind several times while reading Lees' autobiographical account. It is tempting to speculate that this is the kind of book that only senior authors who are not afraid of authority (and are willing to raise their head above the parapet) can write. Surely, this is the kind of book that curious readers who are used to thinking outside the box enjoy the most.