Review: Brain on Fire

November 2, 2016 Memoir, non-fiction, Psychology, Science 14

Review: Brain on FireTitle: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
Author: Susannah Cahalan
Source: Library
Links: Amazon|Indiebound |Goodreads
Rating: five-stars

Summary: This was an amazing mix of clear, informative journalism and moving, emotional memoir.
“When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened? In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.” (source)

I’ve been hearing good things about this memoir for ages and I’m so glad I finally picked it up! As with Earning It, I could tell the author was a journalist. The writing was clear and the author managed to convey all the technical details of her illness clearly. I also appreciated that the author was transparent about her sources, particularly what she remembered and what she didn’t.

Unlike Earning It, the author was telling her own story and so the journalistic writing was not distancing. She wrote in an engaging way, with short chapters and foreshadowing that kept me desperately wanting to know what happened next, even though I knew the final outcome was good. Throughout, I felt emotionally involved in her recovery. I know because I teared up multiple times as she focused in on beautiful, emotionally significant scenes that were turning points for her. Despite all the rave reviews, this exceeded my expectations. Highly recommended.

14 Responses to “Review: Brain on Fire”

    • DoingDewey

      I haven’t! I also enjoy medical mysteries, so I’ve noticed the reviews of Patient H.M., but I just haven’t gotten to it yet.

  1. Shay

    This book was really interesting and well written. One thing that bothered me about it was the way they seemed so upset by the idea that she could be mentally ill. Obviously in her case it was right to keep pushing for a different diagnosis, but they just seemed so put off by the very idea, as if it was impossible or distasteful.
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    • DoingDewey

      I didn’t really pick up on that and I wonder if that’s because going into it, I knew that she was right to push for a different diagnosis. I also can’t remember if they had a good reason for continuing to push. I wonder if they were put off by the idea of her being mentally ill simply because being mentally ill felt more permanent than her actual condition turned out to be.

    • DoingDewey

      I really enjoyed it too! I didn’t find that it left me worried about my own health symptoms, but I was definitely horrified by how close she came to not being diagnosed. I’d like to be able to rely on doctors to do a bit better than that!
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