Staff Pick of the Week: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan


The first staff pick of 2016 is the riveting memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan.  In the midst of a promising career and serious relationship, Cahalan suddenly finds herself plagued with migraines, panic attacks, memory loss and even severe psychosis.  Several doctors are baffled by her condition and she’s on the verge of being committed before eventually being diagnosed with a rare brain-attacking autoimmune disease.  This is a fast-paced, absorbing survival story that fans of medical mysteries will love.  A movie version is currently in the works and should debut in 2016.

“In this swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her inexplicable descent into madness and the brilliant, lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. A team of doctors would spend a month—and more than a million dollars—trying desperately to pin down a medical explanation for what had gone wrong. Meanwhile, as the days passed and her family, boyfriend, and friends helplessly stood watch by her bed, she began to move inexorably through psychosis into catatonia and, ultimately, toward death. Yet even as this period nearly tore her family apart, it offered an extraordinary testament to their faith in Susannah and their refusal to let her go.

Then, at the last minute, celebrated neurologist Souhel Najjar joined her team and, with the help of a lucky, ingenious test, saved her life. He recognized the symptoms of a newly discovered autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the brain, a disease now thought to be tied to both schizophrenia and autism, and perhaps the root of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

Far more than simply a riveting read and a crackling medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind. Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her “lost month” to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love. It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.” –Publisher’s Description

Don’t forgot about the 2016 Read Harder Challenge! This title could fulfill the 24th (mental illness) or 18th (movie) task! Printed copies of the challenge can be found at both the Circulation and Reference desks.

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