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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Viking, 1962)

Written by American novelist Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital. The novel is narrated by “Chief” Bromden, a Native American patient at the hospital. He focuses mainly on fellow patient Randle Patrick McMurphy, who faked insanity to avoid doing his sentence for battery in prison. Unfortunately for McMurphy, the hospital ward is run with an iron fist by head administrative nurse Mildred Ratched.

Fitting that this classic novel served as a study of institutional processes and the human mind. At the time of its publication, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and sweeping changes of psychological approaches were occurring. The 1960s ushered in the movement of deinstitutionalization. Kesey had some inside knowledge of psychiatric facilities, he wasn’t just grasping at straws; he worked the graveyard shift as an orderly at a mental health facility in Menlo Park, California.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest wouldn’t be considered a classic book if it didn’t have controversy attached to it. (Notice that most of them do.) The book has been banned several times and pretty much in every decade since its publication. It also wouldn’t be a classic novel if it didn’t have adaptations. It has been adapted into a Broadway play in 1963 and a 1975 film that won 5 Academy Awards.

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