Books: The Soft Cell

THE DISCOVERY OF THE ASYLUM by David J. Rothman. 376 pages. Little, Brown. $12.50.

No proper tour of America in the 1830s would have been complete without a visit to a penitentiary. European governments even dispatched special envoys to observe what was then called "a grand theater, for the trial of all new plans in hygiene and education, in physical and moral reform." The grand design applied to lunatic asylums and poorhouses as well. Order, discipline and cleanliness benevolently imposed in public institutions would rehabilitate the criminal, conquer insanity and resurrect the indigent....

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