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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Hardcover – Nov 13 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (Nov. 13 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781451621372
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451621372
  • ASIN: 145162137X
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 481 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #129,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“Harrowing . . . Cahalan's tale is . . . admirably well-researched and described. . . . This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.” (The Washington Post)

“A dramatic and suspenseful book that draws you into her story and holds you there until the last page. . . I recommend it highly.” (The Lancet)

“The bizarre and confounding illness that beset the 24-year-old New York Post reporter in early 2009 so ravaged her mentally and physically that she became unrecognizable to coworkers, family, friends, and—most devastatingly—herself… She dedicates this miracle of a book to ‘those without a diagnosis’… [An] unforgettable memoir.” (Elle)

“Swift and haunting.” (Scientific American)

“This fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter…describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity…Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific information…compelling.”
(Booklist (starred review))

“Compelling…a New York Post reporter recounts her medical nightmare.” (Mental Floss)

“For the neurologist, I highly recommend this book on several grounds…First, it is a well-told story, worth reading for the suspense and the dramatic cadence of events…Second, it is a superb case study of a rare neurologic diagnosis; even experienced neurologists will find much to learn in it…Third, and most important, it gives the neurologist insight into how a patient and her family experienced a complex illness, including the terrifying symptoms, the difficult pace of medical diagnosis, and the slow recovery. This story clearly contains lessons for all of us.”
(Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology)

“Focusing her journalistic toolbox on her story, Cahalan untangles the medical mystery surrounding her condition…A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery.”
(Publishers Weekly)

It's a cold March night in New York, and journalist Susannah Cahalan is watching PBS with her boyfriend, trying to relax after a difficult day at work. He falls asleep, and wakes up moments later to find her having a seizure straight out of The Exorcist. "My arms suddenly whipped straight out in front of me, like a mummy, as my eyes rolled back and my body stiffened," Cahalan writes. "I inhaled repeatedly, with no exhale. Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth."
It's hard to imagine a scenario more nightmarish, but for Cahalan the worst was yet to come. In 2009, the New York Post reporter, then 24, was hospitalized after — there's really no other way to put it — losing her mind. In addition to the violent seizures, she was wracked by terrifying hallucinations, intense mood swings, insomnia and fierce paranoia. Cahalan spent a month in the hospital, barely recognizable to her friends and family, before doctors diagnosed her with a rare autoimmune disorder. "Her brain is on fire," one doctor tells her family. "Her brain is under attack by her own body."

Cahalan, who has since recovered, remembers almost nothing about her monthlong hospitalization — it's a merciful kind of amnesia that most people, faced with the same illness, would embrace. But the best reporters never stop asking questions, and Cahalan is no exception. In Brain on Fire, the journalist reconstructs — through hospital security videotapes and interviews with her friends, family and the doctors who finally managed to save her life — her hellish experience as a victim of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. The result is a kind of anti-memoir, an out-of-body personal account of a young woman's fight to survive one of the cruelest diseases imaginable. And on every level, it's remarkable.

The best journalists prize distance and objectivity, so it's not surprising that the most difficult subject for a news writer is probably herself. And although she's young, Cahalan belongs firmly to the old school of reporters — she writes with an incredible sense of toughness and a dogged refusal to stop digging into her past, even when it profoundly hurts. One of the most moving moments in Brain on Fire comes when Cahalan, preparing a New York Post article about her illness, watches videos of herself in the hospital. She's horrified, but finds that she can't look away. "I was outrageously skinny. Crazed. Angry," she writes. "I had the intense urge to grab the videos and burn them or at least hide them away, safe from view."

But she doesn't, and she barely flinches when her loved ones tell her about the paranoid delusions that held her firmly in their grasp for several weeks. There's no vanity in Brain on Fire — Cahalan recounts obsessively searching her boyfriend's email for signs that he was cheating on her (he wasn't) and loudly insisting to hospital workers that her father had killed his wife (she was alive). Cahalan is nothing if not tenacious, and she perfectly tempers her brutal honesty with compassion and something like vulnerability.

It's indisputable that Cahalan is a gifted reporter, and Brain on Fire is a stunningly brave book. But even more than that, she's a naturally talented prose stylist — whip-smart but always unpretentious — and it's nearly impossible to stop reading her, even in the book's most painful passages. Reflecting on finding a piece of jewelry she'd lost during her illness, she writes, "Sometimes, just when we need them, life wraps metaphors up in little bows for us. When you think all is lost, the things you need the most return unexpectedly."

Brain on Fire comes from a place of intense pain and unthinkable isolation, but finds redemption in Cahalan's unflagging, defiant toughness. It's an unexpected gift of a book from one of America's most courageous young journalists. (NPR.org)

About the Author

Susannah Cahalan is a news reporter at the New York Post whose award-winning work has also been featured in The New York Times. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By C. Neshine on April 20 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was amazed by this book. Compelling, well written, brutally honest, I couldn't put it down. It is also informative, as Cahalan did considerable research about the brain, and included some of it in some very accessible notes. There is a genuine feeling of suspense and fear, as doctors struggle to discover what is wrong with this strange patient while Cahalan's family struggle to support her, while dealing with their own fears, and terrors. I can't recommend this book enough.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J McKenna on May 14 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The line between mental illness and organic brain disease has been irrevocably blurred if not completely erased by Susannah's account off her month of madness. Her story, reconstructed from her own admittedly unreliable memories combined with her parents' journal entries and hospital videotapes during her admission to the epilepsy unit at NYU, is a realistic account of a rapid descent into a severe neurological condition superficially resembling schizophrenia. It is frightening in how close she came to being diagnosed as schizophrenic when she really had a reversible, treatable, auto-immune encephalitis. Her diagnosis which required weeks of tests and referral to several neurologists was pursued relentlessly by her parents with the support of her boyfriend, despite at times seeming hopeless. This is a moving and realistic account that provides fascinating insights into diseases of the mind and the power of love in healing. Susannah's story reaffirms the importance of having someone who cares enough to keep pushing until an answer is found, particularly when nobody seems to know what is going on.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Susan Peery on Jan. 5 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Susanna Cahalan is the victim of anti-NMDA encephalitis and this book is about her illness and her recovery. Misdiagnoses abound, with times spent on psychiatric wards, family doubts, fears, and not knowing what to do about their previously accomplished daughter. It's a disease becoming more and more identified as research is bringing it and the symptoms to the public eye. I gave this book to my daughter after I'd read it. She is a health care worker and it has helped her base of knowledge. She loaned it to her brother in-law, who took it with him to Paris. Cahalan's illness and recovery is a good read and highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Emilee on July 12 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a great read, not only does Susannah relive her experience but you can tell she did a lot of research on what happened to her during her "month of madness". By showing the emotion everyone felt around her during this time its almost like you were there too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Katarina Kla on March 21 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I kept thinking what if this had happened to me!

True story from which I learned a lot about health and love.

I recommend it!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I work in a medical environment so I really enjoyed this book. The writing was excellent. Very enlightening in respect to not judging too quickly when someone exhibits irrational behaviour. So glad the outcome for S. was a happy one. I would recommend and have done with my book club to read this.
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By MapleBud on June 8 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Amazingly interesting book! You will not be disappointed. I could not put it down. I passed this book on to all my family members
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Format: Paperback
I read this book for a book club I belong to.

What a story. A true story of a woman's fight (the author) with a little known diesease called anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Look it up for a full explanation of what it is. We went through her syptoms as they developed. We went through fears and worries as she stayed in hospital. We went through her recovery and return to society.

The author did a great job with controlling our emotions. The story took me down with her descent into madness as the disease took control of her life. Then she lifted us up with her miraculous diagnosis and recovery.

I liked how the author did not feel sorry for herself. She did wonder about why it happened to her and why she was so lucky to survive it.

The author did a good job of revealing her character in the book. This was critical to the story as the disease altered her character while it was developing. It could have altered her forever.

The book was easy to read and kept me engrossed. The chapters were short so I could read little bits of it here and there. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
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