Sunday, November 25, 2012

G12 Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Name of Book: Brain on Fire; My Month of Madness

Author: Susannah Cahalan

ISBN: 9781451621372

Publisher: Free Press

Year it was published: 2012


A gripping memoir and medical suspense story about a young New York Post reporter’s struggle with a rare and terrifying disease, opening a new window into the fascinating world of brain science.

One day, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records—from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory—showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier she had been a healthy, ambitious twenty-four year old, six months into her first serious relationship and a sparkling career as a cub reporter.

Susannah’s astonishing memoir chronicles the swift path of her illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving her life. As weeks ticked by and Susannah moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning her to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—joined her team. He asked Susannah to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing her with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which her body was attacking her brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

With sharp reporting drawn from hospital records, scientific research, and interviews with doctors and family, Brain on Fire is a crackling mystery and an unflinching, gripping personal story that marks the debut of an extraordinary writer.

Author Information:
(from: Susannah's webiste)

I always knew I wanted to write, even when I was in elementary school, writing a “book” about familial dysfunction inspired by the afternoons I spent with my babysitter watching The Bold and the Beautiful. And for as long back as I can remember, I’ve had a deep love for newspapers. So when there was an internship opening at the New York Post when I was entering my senior year in high school, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’ve now been at The Post for ten years, three of which I worked full-time after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis. I started as a “copy kid”—responsible for making coffee, handing out papers and sorting mail, dreaming that I would one day have a mailbox of my own. Now, I finally do. I’ve covered a wide variety of topics for the tabloid, from the quirky and the weird, to the dangerous and the criminal. These days I mainly cover books for the paper’s Postscript section. My work has also been featured in The New York Times and The Czech Business Weekly, where I worked when I studied abroad my junior year of college.

In 2009, I was the proud recipient of the Silurian Award of Excellence for the article “My Mysterious Lost Month of Madness,” on which Brain on Fire is based.

I live in Jersey City with my boyfriend and dog, Gus the Spinone.

Thanks so much for your interest in my story!

Other works:

This is her first novel, although she wrote other pieces for The Post.


She is a journalist for The Post and at the age of 24 in 2009 she ended up in a neurological hospital due to a mysterious illness she has contacted which turned out to be Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. I would guess now she's healthy and she's shared her story with the world.


I would guess that the main theme is trying to reconstruct what happened with her, as well as giving advice and hope and insight into the illness that she suffered from. "There are undoubtedly things that I have gotten wrong, mysteries I will never solve, and many moments left forgotten and unwritten. What is left, then, is a journalist's inquiry into that deepest part of the self- personality, memory, identity- in an attempt to pick up and understand the pieces left behind." (IX)

Problems it addresses:

Mysterious diseases and importance of the brain. Apparently the knowledge that we know of the brain and of dynamics are just the tip of an iceberg rather than the complete knowledge. There are things that will elude people in one way or the other.


First she attempts to reconstruct from memories of what its like to have the disease, then she moves on to either videos or flashes or her friends and families as sources, and then she moves back to trying to get back to normal life.


There is hope at the end of the tunnel.

Main Points:

The life before the disease and the life after disease, and the fact that she did regain herself, although it took her a long time to do so.

Why book is interesting and informative:

The fact that the book is a medical mystery and she's a talented writer makes this book fascinating. She is basically suffering from something that most doctors aren't familiar with and the fact that this disease was named in 2000s rather than early 1900s or 1800s, makes this a fascinating book as well as a fascinating topic on what its like to suffer hallucination and delusion. She's good at informing the reader of what's going on as well as replicating various things like the test and handwriting and giving out information for strange psychological jargon as well as trying to explain how the brain works.

Book supports thesis:

I think the book does support thesis, and it shows the importance of network and of how beneficial it can be for people, even when all hope might be lost.

Outside sources:

I always had fascination for psychology, and to my knowledge this seems to be correct. Besides classes, I hadn't read any other psychology books or novels.

Time period:

The time period is 2009, and its shocking by how much we don't know or are unfamiliar with.

Special things:

I have an ARE, (Advance Reader's Edition,) but in there are some replications of papers and thoughts that Susannah had during that time period.

Issues it raises:

I believe that every century we see ourselves as advanced civilization, gifted with knowledge and wisdom beyond our predecessors, but this book raises an issue that in fact as hard as we try, we will never control universe or be gods. The doctors that treated Susannah were one of the best, but yet they failed to diagnose her. Tis book shows how much we don't know and how much we lack. I also think that unintentionally Susannah gives positive light to someone who came from Syria, a man from Middle East who helped to cure her.


I hadn't suffered from the disease (knock on wood three times,) but for me it sounded very scary to have it and to suffer from. This book reminded me of the fragility of brain and how much we all depend on it for survival.


I would guess that the sources are credible: she used herself, her family members and doctors to fill in the gaps. Yet there will always be blocked memories and things unknown. If I'm not mistaken she also used books and other materials.


I found it a beautiful book and I couldn't find anything wrong with it. I highly recommend the book for reading or for pondering mysteries, or perhaps for a feeling of humanity and frailty.

Quick notes: I won this book on thus this review will appear in its entirety on goodreads as well as the blog

 5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)


  1. I like how detailed your reviews are :).

    I read you won this book on Goodreads, where I have a page too. If you're interested, just type offbeat-ya into the Find Friends box. No pressure at all of course, and no offence taken if you'd rather not join me. No point in having friends just in order to turn them into numbers :).

  2. Thanks for the compliment Roberta :) Have you won anything from goodreads? The post Hoping to get actually stuff I either got from goodreads already or am waiting for goodreads. (For specific reasons, I didn't include Eleanor & Park, although if the book should come, I'll put it there.)

    1. Hi again,
      no, I haven't won anything on GR - I only joined the site last month, as a matter of fact. I'm checking the giveaways almost daily, but still have to find something that really suits me. How come you've won so many books? I thought it was difficult to be selected (randomly or not. I mean, I don't really know if there are specific reasons why one should be selected, other than having a blog or page dealing with books, or if it's a random thing). Also, why some books should be "Lost Cause/Lost Hope/Books I shall never receive"? Just curious ;).

  3. Hey Roberta, sorry hadn't answered in a while. I honestly have no idea how come I've won so many books...I might as well have better luck answering a math equation rather than that question :D And the previous question, well, I was waiting for Eleanor and Park to arrive, but until 24th of December (out of all days,) it never did, which is why I put it underneath there. How are things going?

  4. Susannah's story of delusion, psychosis and paranoia was so frightening and terrifying that it morphed in to fascination. I could not put it down. The reality of her story, and the thought that this has happened to hundreds more before her and could happen to you or I made it all the more interesting. My heart broke for her parents and though some pieces of her story were painful to read, my soul cheered for her recovery. Her story was brave and beautifully told. A fantastic read.

  5. I have just finished reading it and haven't reflected on what I've read yet but felt compelled to leave this five star review with a thank you to the author for writing this book and making herself so vulnerable for us.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...