Reviewed by Sara Drake

In Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan details her descent into madness as a result of a little known autoimmune disorder. One day she works as a journalist at a respected newspaper, a month later she has deteriorated to functioning little better than an infant. She wakes in the hospital with no memory of what has happened. As she recovers, she attempts to recover knowledge of the lost period of her life using her skills as a journalist. She relies on interviews with family, friends, and doctors as well as her medical records to put the puzzle pieces together. This book represents her detailed investigation to discover herself and her past.

Brain on Fire is part memoir, part medical mystery, and part a non-fiction introduction to the brain. The combination presents an emotionally powerful, suspenseful, and informative view of a newly recognized disorder. Ms. Cahalan describes the power of paranoia, hallucinations, and emotion to tear down a carefully constructed life. She also recognizes the power of love to fight for proper care against the odds when faced with someone inexplicably losing their mind. Her parents dedication to her and her care made the difference in her recovery and her boyfriend’s amazing perseverance saw her through the darkness.

I have a deep fascination with the mind and the multitude of things that can go wrong within a healthy person. I enjoyed Ms. Cahalan’s honest depiction of what she suffered. I found myself deeply moved by her experiences and the dedication of her family and her boyfriend. I found myself crying, cheering, and reacting in ways few books can inspire in me. Ms. Cahalan’s writing style makes it easy to follow her journey. She has a gift for describing complex medical concepts in an easy to understand format that does not detract from the overall story of her own personal journey.

This book has no flaws that I could uncover, a true rarity. Ms. Cahalan’s writes clearly and powerfully. The medical descriptions do not detract from the suspense, rather they add to the growing emotional journey. Despite recognizing that the book could not have been written without the author’s recovery, the reader remains in a state of tension wondering how much worse things will become before they get better. Overall, this book stands as an amazing accomplishment and testament to the strength of the human spirit. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in psychology, memoirs, or medical mysteries.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sara Drake has been an avid reader since a young age. She has both a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and a Master’s in History.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Free Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.