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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Paperback – August 6, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 2,759 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In this fascinating memoir by a young New York Post reporter previously known for going undercover as a stripper and writing a butt-implant story headlined Rear and Present Danger, Cahalan describes how she crossed the line between sanity and insanity after an unknown pathogen invaded her body and caused an autoimmune reaction that jump-started brain inflammation, paranoia, and seizures. Her divorced parents put aside their differences and rose to the occasion, sitting by her during the month she was confined to the hospital, about which she remembers nothing. Her boyfriend stayed with her, and one wonderful doctor, noticing that she walked and talked like a late-stage Alzheimer’s patient, was determined to get to the bottom of her medical mystery. Luckily, she was insured, because her treatment cost $1 million. Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific and medical information about autoimmune diseases, which are about two-thirds environmental and one-third genetic in origin. So, she writes, an external trigger, such as a sneeze or a toxic apartment, probably combined with a genetic predisposition toward developing aggressive antibodies to create her problem. A compelling health story. --Karen Springen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Captivating…Cahalan’s prose carries a sharp, unsparing tabloid punch in the tradition of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin.” (New York Times Book Review)

“A fascinating look at the disease that – if not for a nick-of-time diagnosis – could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life.” (People magazine)

“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))

"An intense, mesmerizing account of survival. . . Cahalan's deft descriptions of her spooky hallucinations could be right out of a Poe terror tale." (BookForum)

“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)

"The best reporters never stop asking questions, and Cahalan is no exception...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.....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....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)

“What is most impressive about “Brain on Fire” is that Cahalan has little recollection of her month of insanity…. Thanks partially to her talent as a journalist and to the fact that her parents kept journals, Cahalan was able to recapture her month, leaving no holes in the narrative.” (The Daily Texan)

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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451621388
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451621389
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,759 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julie Merilatt VINE VOICE on November 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
What makes this book so terrifying is its reality. Witnessing Susannah's decent into her bizarre illness is effing frightening, but what's even more disconcerting is that people throughout history have probably suffered from her condition but have been misdiagnosed as autistic, schizophrenic, or even possessed. This type of autoimmune disorder is becoming more identifiable, but much about it still remains a mystery, especially since the broad range of symptoms so resemble mental illness.

Cahalan's background as a journalist enables her to reconstruct her ordeal despite not forming memories for a month-long period. She interviewed her family members, doctors, nurses - anyone who witnessed her seizures, her slurred speech, her neurotic, paranoid delusions, and her awkward, uncontrolled movements. She deftly narrates a period of her life that changed her forever, as her body attacked her brain and she completely lost all control of herself. But she also successfully brings awareness to her readers. So if I start exhibiting strange behavior in the next few weeks, it's probably psychosomatic sympathy symptoms.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.
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Format: Hardcover
Brain on Fire is Susannah Cahalan's reconstruction of her harrowing year with a brain inflammation. Calahan was a 24 year old reporter with the New York Post in 2008 when she began to exhibit signs of mental illness. She was living on her own in NYC and had recently begun a serious relationship with Stephen. Cahalan's symptoms were a mixture of the physical (weakness on her left side, difficulty speaking) and the mental (paranoia, violence and psychosis). Her condition was undiagnosed for an agonizing period of time. Some of her physicians thought she was suffering from alcohol withdrawal despite the fact that she told them she was only an occasional drinker. She came very close to being diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Both of her parents but especially her father insisted that her illness had a physical cause and only with this advocacy was she admitted to NYU. There she was diagnosed as having an autoimmune inflammation in the one hemisphere of her brain. In a marvelous nod to medicine as an art not a science she is finally diagnosed by a physician who administers a simple straight forward test - she is asked to fill in numbers on a drawing of a clock. Because she writes all of the numbers on one side of the drawing the physicians now have proof that the half of her brain is inflamed. So after over one million dollars worth of laboratory tests, she is diagnosed by a savvy MD with pencil and paper! Once the diagnosis of autoimmune disease is confirmed by researchers at Penn, Cahalan has a slow but steady recovery. There are two back stories going on that deserve a mention. One, her new boyfriend Stephen sticks around even when her strange behavior appears to have a mental origin not a physical one. Surely a guy worth knowing!Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I didn't put this book down after I started it. I couldn't. I finished it in all one sitting. This book will stick with me for a long time. Most disturbing is had I been her, I know that my parents would have called it possession. What would have become of me?

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.
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Format: Hardcover
"Brain on Fire" is the true story of Susannah Cahalan's "lost month of madness," most of which she remembers imperfectly or not at all. Since she is a reporter, however, she has been able to piece together much of what happened by speaking to doctors, nurses, friends, and family; reading "thousands of pages of medical records"; consulting her dad's journal and her parents' "hospital notebook"; watching video footage of herself; and trying to reconstruct any impressions that she still retains.

In the preface, Susannah is in NYU Medical Center, restrained by "a thick mesh vest" to prevent her from pulling out her EEG wires or trying to escape from her "captors." The precise origin of Cahalan's illness is unknown, but one day in 2009, this pretty, carefree, vivacious, and confident New York Post reporter began to exhibit strange symptoms. She became obsessed with bedbugs, developed migraines as well as tingling and numbness in her left hand, cried uncontrollably, had persistent insomnia, could no longer cope with her professional responsibilities, felt as if she was "slogging through quicksand," and experienced seizures, hallucinations, and paranoia. Fortunately, her parents and boyfriend, Stephen, stood by her, refusing to believe that she was psychotic and needed to be institutionalized.

After a variety of physicians examined her and ran batteries of tests--but failed to pinpoint the exact cause of her physical and mental deterioration--Susannah found her savior in Dr. Souhel Najjar, "the man to go to when nothing made sense." He suspected that she might be suffering from autoimmune encephalitis and a neuro-oncologist named Dr. Josep Dalmau confirmed the diagnosis. Soon, Dr.
Read more ›
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