The Influencing Machine


(UK edition) – Strange Attractor Press

(US edition) – North Atlantic Press


‘One of the greatest books you’ve never read’ .. William Gibson

‘Beautifully written, with all the drama, the rich characterization, the subtlety, of a fine novel.’
from the foreword by Oliver Sacks


Confined in Bedlam in 1797 as an incurable lunatic, James Tilly Matthews’ case is one of the most bizarre in the annals of psychiatry. He was the first person to insist that his mind was being controlled by a machine: the Air Loom, a terrifying secret weapon whose mesmeric rays and mysterious gases were brainwashing politicians and plunging Europe into revolution, terror and war.

But Matthews’ case was even stranger than his doctors realised: many of the incredible conspiracies in which he claimed to be involved were entirely real. Caught up in high-level diplomatic intrigues in the chaos of the French revolution, he found himself betrayed by both sides, and in possession of a secret that no-one would believe…

Originally published as The Air Loom Gang (2003), the text has been fully revised and updated, with newly discovered source material and previously unpublished images.

Winner, Ken Book Award 2005, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)


ARTICLE on James Tilly Matthews, John Haslam and Illustrations of Madness for
Public Domain Review

VIDEO: short animation of the Air Loom by Leo Bridle, in collaboration with Mike for Wellcome Collection

VIDEO: Mike talks about The Influencing Machine at Nottingham Contemporary Gallery

AUDIO: Mike discusses The Influencing Machine with Emma Gibson and Nadine Monem on The Butcher’s Apron

AUDIO: Mike discusses James Tilly Matthews with Robert Pollie on the 7th Avenue Project


‘A magnificent study…beautifully balanced and fiercely energetic…a paean to the logic of lunacy’

‘Marvellous…free of academic jargon, delicately nuanced but taut with drama…one of the most rewarding books on madness and its history that I have ever read’
Literary Review

‘Brilliant…a stunning reordering of life in the revolutionary years of the early 19th century’

‘A riveting and affecting tale…Jay sets Matthews’ extraordinary life vividly in its dangerous times’
New Scientist

‘An ambitious, comprehensive and extremely interesting interpretation of Matthews and his delusion…original and intellectually thrilling’
History of Psychiatry

‘Regency-era steam contraptions, mind control, government intrigue, and a creative genius driven mad by paranoid hallucinations…Jay deftly places Matthews into the context of a tumultuous era’
Village Voice

‘Gripping as well as profound…Jay’s narrative is structured for maximum effect, and themes woven in strand by strand until they run into a multi-coloured fabric’

‘Brilliant…a salutary lesson for those who would give a voice to the mad, whether mesmerists, psychiatrists or historians’
Medical History

‘One of the most spellbinding tales in the annals of psychoses, which Mike Jay brings to life with flair in this updated version of his 2003 classic’
The Londonist

‘A fascinating and captivating narrative…for those of us who work in the field, the way we understand psychosis could be completely reframed by this book’
Integral Options Cafe

‘It’s hard to praise this book too highly…it will haunt your imagination as it has mine’
The Generalist



Stranger than Fiction
From mind control to the Truman Show: how paranoid delusions colonised popular culture

James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom
The secret life and turbulent times of the first man to believe that his mind was being controlled by a machine

The Art of Mind Control
The influencing machine in visionary and outsider art