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Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety Hardcover – July 3, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 255 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“I read Monkey Mind with admiration for its bravery and clarity. Daniel Smith’s anxiety is matched by a wonderful sense of the comic, and it is this which makes Monkey Mind not only a dark, pain-filled book but a hilariously funny one, too. I broke out into explosive laughter again and again.” —Oliver Sacks, bestselling author of The Mind’s Eye and Musicophilia

Monkey Mind does for anxiety what William Styron’s Darkness Visible did for depression.” —Aaron T. Beck, father of cognitive therapy

“You don't need a Jewish mother, or a profound sweating problem, to feel Daniel Smith's pain in Monkey Mind. His memoir treats what must be the essential ailment of our time—chronic anxiety—and it does so with wisdom, honesty, and the kind of belly laughs that can only come from troubles transformed.” —Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding

“Daniel Smith maps the jagged contours of anxiety with such insight, humor and compassion that the result is, oddly, calming. There are countless gems in these pages, including a fresh take on the psycho-pathology of chronic nail biting, an ill-fated ménage a trois—and the funniest perspiration scene since Albert Brooks’ sweaty performance in Broadcast News. Read this book. You have nothing to lose but your heart palpitations, and your Xanax habit.” —Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss

“I don’t know Daniel Smith, but I do want to give him a hug. His book is so bracingly honest, so hilarious, so sharp, it’s clear there’s one thing he doesn’t have to be anxious about: Whether or not he’s a great writer.” —A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy and The Year of Living Biblically

“Daniel Smith has a written a wise, funny book, a great mix of startling memoir and fascinating medical and literary history, all of it delivered with humor and a true generosity of spirit. I only got anxious in the last part, when I worried the book would end.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land and The Ask

“In this unforgettable, surprisingly hilarious memoir, journalist and professor Smith chronicles his head-clanging, flop-sweating battles with acute anxiety. . . . He’s clear-eyed and funny about his condition’s painful absurdities.” People (four stars)

“This book will change the way you think about anxiety…. Daniel Smith's writing dazzled me….. Painful experiences are described with humor, and complex ideas are made accessible…. Monkey Mind is a rare gem.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Monkey Mind is fleet, funny, and productively exhausting.” (Ben Greenman The New York Times Book Review)

“Superb writing [and] marvelous humor . . . If you're chronically anxious and want to better explain to a loved one what you're going through, hand them Monkey Mind.” Psychology Today

“You’ll laugh out loud many times during Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind. . . . In the time-honored tradition of leavening pathos with humor, Smith has managed to create a memoir that doesn’t entirely let him off the hook for bad behavior . . . but promotes understanding of the similarly afflicted.” —O Magazine

“The book is one man’s story, but at its core it’s about all of us.” Booklist

“[Smith] adroitly dissects his relentless mental and physical symptoms with intelligence and humor. . . . An intelligent, intimate and touching journey through one man’s angst-ridden life.” The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“A true treasure-trove of insight laced with humor and polished prose.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Monkey Mind is a perfect 10…. Hilarious, well-informed and intelligent, Smith conveys the seriousness of his situation without becoming pathetic or unrelatable, and what’s more, he offers useful information for both sufferers and non-sufferers…. He gives us a reason to stay with him on every page.”—Newsday

“Here's one less thing for Daniel Smith to worry about: He sure can write. In Monkey Mind, a memoir of his lifelong struggles with anxiety, he defangs the experience with a winning combination of humor and understanding.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR.org

“For fellow anxiety-sufferers, it’s like finding an Anne of Green Gables–style kindred spirit.” New York magazine’s Vulture.com

“[Monkey Mind] will be recognized in the years to come as the preeminent first-person narrative of the anxiously lived life.” Psychiatric Times

About the Author

Daniel Smith is the author of Muses, Madmen, and Prophets and a contributor to numerous publications, including The American Scholar, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, and Slate.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (July 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439177309
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439177303
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (255 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #395,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Knowing Daniel's struggles with anxiety I feel a certain amount of anxiety myself writing this review. I wouldn't want to put undue stress on someone who comes off as a mensch with a whale on his back. Happily, Monkey Mind is a fine book; so the pressure is off.

First, if you're interested in this book to discover anxiety cures, you will likely be largely be disappointed. Although Smith finds some relief through cognitive therapy and meditation, only the last five percent of the book addresses how he handles his condition. What Monkey Mind does do very well, however, is provide a detailed and in-depth look at anxiety in its various forms. Smith knows anxiety the way Eskimos are reported to know different types of snow (apparently it's a myth that Eskimos have tons of names for different types of snow, but the cliche/point seems relevant.)

Smith entertainingly and poignantly uses his own battles with anxiety (apparently excessive sweating is a serious problem for those with extreme anxiety) to explore the various forms and facets of anxiety. As someone who is much more prone to anxiety than depression, these explorations are definitely of interest. Also, Smith's tendency to anxiety is so much worse than mine, that it makes me feel maybe I'm not so bad off.

One Line Summary: Overall, recommended for anyone interested in exploring anxiety in an in-depth, interesting, and personal way.

Possible Related Recommendations
- Anyone interested in a solid (and at moment very inexpensive for used copies on Amazon) practical guide for dealing with anxiety might consider
...Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Monkey Mind is a memoir written from a person who suffers terrible anxiety. Although I'm not a really anxious person, I'm a physician who treats many anxious patients. Reading this book gave me some insight into how some people really suffer from anxiety. The inability to react calmly in situations that others might just blow off was eye-opening to me. Overall, a well-written book filled with self-deprecating humor.
I enjoy reading books where people can poke fun at themselves. For this reason, Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection is a great companion to this book. Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity is another recent funny one. Stein, a writer for TIME, may be the best writer today at self-deprecating male humor.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I wanted to like this and was hoping to find a kindred spirit or at least some words of advice. While I ended up sympathizing with Mr. Smith, I didn't end up knowing him. His words read like a endless stream of his suffering but where is the man behind the anxiety? He remained a stranger to me.

A far better read that really touches home from a writer who suffers from anxiety is "Let's Pretend This Never Happened" by Jenny Lawson. You ache for her and cheer for her, and in the end she feels like a close friend.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With humor and honesty, Smith courageously shares his anxiety ridden beginnings. Through his teens, college, career and early romance I traveled with Smith through each anxiety laced episode. Though torn apart nails, and drenched shirts may occupy his appearance, courage, sensitivity and finally humor fill his soul. In parts I connected with him, in others I empathized with him, and in each page I rooted for him. His story captivated me from page 1.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The first quarter or so of this book is very funny, describing his severe anxiety in general. It becomes markedly less funny and dangerously boring when the author talks at great length about how he went to college and was basically saved by reading Philip Roth (ugh). Even though he keeps insisting his own family is nothing like Roth's, he winds up blaming a great deal of his problems on his mother (she's too anxious herself, the atmosphere at home was too chaotic, &c &c). He says his father's anxious too, but his father never appears in the book.

More seriously, then he goes on to detail a terrible article he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in 2001 about ECT. I remember that article, and the controversy about it, even though that was over ten years ago. I bought this book on Kindle so there was nothing on the cover flaps or back that might have warned me this is the same author (I'd be curious if there's anything on the hard copy that might connect him with the article). If I'd known, I might not have even bought the book. That article represented a terrible low for the Atlantic's journalism in general and psychiatric journalism in particular. No, I'm not exaggerating. Yes, I know about pro-ECT books written by people who claim they benefited from ECT (I own several). This is deadly serious. He doesn't really accept responsibility for having written such an article at all -- he's just very defensive and his thinking about anxiety is just as bad as the thinking about ECT displayed in that article.

If you want to read a memoir about severe anxiety which starts off very amusingly, descends into boring autobiography and then is infuriatingly defensive ("I hadn't killed anyone or knocked anyone up. I hadn't even acted maliciously") -- then get this from the library.
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