's CBR6 Review No:2

“The brain is a monstrous, beautiful mess.”

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (Buy on amazon.com)


Brain on FireThis is Susannah Cahalan’s story of how she lost her mind for a month.  Susannah was a normal, healthy mid-twenties woman living in New York City.  She had a great job as a reporter, a wonderful boyfriend, and a network of friends and family.  She was described as outgoing and talkative, and seemed to be the life of the party.  Then one day in 2009, she slowly slipped into a state of paranoia, developed seizures, and could no longer control her movements or thoughts.  She was admitted to the hospital, where doctors were clueless as to what was causing her condition.  The book follows her story as she fights for her life, and the struggles surrounding her “month of madness.”

Susannah’s story is frightening because she was such a normal person with virtually no history of physical or mental illness.  Her entire personality changed almost overnight, and without warning.  I finished the book in a matter of days because I was gripped with her struggle.  As the author is a trained journalist, the writing was beautiful and really packed a punch, especially in the passages where Susannah reflects on her own behavior during the month.  Susannah does an excellent job of explaining the science of her condition in ordinary words, which really helps  less science-based readers (myself included).

What makes this book so terrifying is one of Susannah’s main messages: that our hold on reality is tenuous and can be taken away in an instant.  We are all prisoners in our own body.  “We are, in the end, a sum of our parts, and when the body fails, all the virtues we hold dear go with it.”  We have very little control over our bodies and our minds.  This book made me stop taking my body and mind for granted, since it could all slip away in a second.

This was my book club’s pick for the month of January, and I can’t wait to talk to my friends about it.  Some of us have had recent health scares (depressing as most of us are 30), so there will be some excellent discussion.  Overall, I would recommend this book.  It clocks in at 250 pages on my kindle, so it is the kind of book you could read in a few days.  But please, if you are a hypochondriac, I would suggest picking up another book!

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