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Historical Basis of “The Alienist”

Set in late 19th century New York City, where lower Manhattan was a slum full of tenements and wgere crimes were rife, the book is a period piece that delves into the modern idea of a serial killer. In particular, a serial killer who might not be geuinely mentally diseased but was influenced to a decisive extent by his early experiences. He is intellectually sound and whose violent acts betray peculiar patterns of moral thought. A warped sense of morality.

The historical background is populated by psychologist and physician Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, who believes in contextual experiences. Shortly after Theodore Roosevelt became president, he had a visit from Dr. Kreizler, who came to plead the cause of better care for “the most disenfranchised”: children and the insane. Roosevelt noted after their meeting, “He remains by turns brusque and courteous, moody and warm. He still talks in spirited fashion about his views on the formation of the human psyche. His theories, like the man himself, retain their odd quality of being at once unsettling and incomprehensible.” In fact, Kreizler’s works lay the crucial foundation on the identifying the psychological profile of a serial killer.

Before the 20th century, persons suffering from mental illness were thought to be “alienated,” not only from the rest of society but from their own true natures. Those experts who studied mental pathologies were therefore known as alienists.


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