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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness | [Susannah Cahalan]

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

In 2009, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room strapped to a bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records - from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory - reported psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier she had been a healthy, ambitious twenty-four-year-old, six months into her first serious relationship and a sparkling career as a cub reporter
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Publisher's Summary

In 2009, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room strapped to a bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records - from a month-long hospital stay of which she had no memory - reported psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier she had been a healthy, ambitious twenty-four-year-old, six months into her first serious relationship and a sparkling career as a cub reporter.

Susannah’s astonishing memoir chronicles the swift path of her illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving her life. Weeks ticked by and Susannah moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia. Over one million dollars worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, until the celebrated neurologist, Dr. Souhel Najjar, joined her team. With the use of a simple - yet ingenious - test, he was able to make a lifesaving diagnosis - revealing a newly discovered autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the brain.

With sharp reporting drawn from hospital records, scientific research, and interviews with doctors and family, Brain on Fire is a crackling mystery and an unflinching, gripping personal story that marks the debut of an extraordinary writer.

©2012 Original material © 2012 Susannah Cahalan. Recorded by arrangement with Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (P)2012 (p) 2012 HighBridge Company

What the Critics Say

"Engrossing.... Unquestionably, an important book on both a human and a medical level. Cahalan’s elegantly-written memoir of her dramatic descent into madness opens up discussion of the cutting-edge neuroscience behind a disease that may affect thousands of people around the world, and it offers powerful insight into the subjective workings of our minds." (Mehmet Oz, MD, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Surgery, New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center)

"Brain on Fire reads like a scientific thriller, but with a profound and moving philosophy at its heart." (David B. Agus, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Engineering, University of Southern California, and author of The End of Illness)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (988 )
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4.1 (889 )
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4.1 (885 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Harriet Tigard, OR, United States 01-08-13
    Harriet Tigard, OR, United States 01-08-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not a standard choice in genre for me!!!"

    Outstanding book made so much more intense because it is real. I generally read scifi and dystopian novels but felt compelled to try this book and I was not disappointed. It is well written and the author does an amazing job of helping the reader feel like they are witnessing everything play out.

    I cried in frustration and happiness. I am rarely moved so strongly. I highly recommend this book. I felt compelled to complete the book in one sitting and struggled to set it aside to go to bed and stayed up way too late before forcing myself to sleep.

    There are lots of dashed hopes, ups and downs, and a general roller coaster ride to hell and back. I was on that roller coaster in spite of the knowledge that I knew the eventual outcome.

    I found myself looking everyone and everything up online. Susannah Cahalan was brutally honest and utilized all the data available to make sense of this period of her life. Again, it is an amazing book. Highly recommended!!

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sunshyne Ewing, NJ, United States 07-08-13
    Sunshyne Ewing, NJ, United States 07-08-13 Member Since 2008

    An avid reader and listener with eclectic tastes... One unifying them is my love of humor, mystery and great narration.

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    "Will make you say thanks for a healthy brain"

    If you are not convinced of the wondrous nature of the brain, you will be after listening to this author's harrowing tale. She does an excellent job presenting the biographical information in a narrative style so that it "reads" more like fiction. The scary thing is that it's not...

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrea @ The Busy Bibliophile USA 06-28-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Don’t miss it."
    Any additional comments?

    What an amazing story. This would be a great fiction story, but the fact that it’s true makes it all the more incredible.

    Susannah takes us on the journey she took as she fell ill to the mysterious illness. The book starts at the first sign that something is wrong and takes us through her time in the hospital, her diagnosis, treatment and the follow-up care and research. Even though she can’t remember anything from that time, she has pulled together doctor’s notes, videos and interviews to create a thorough timeline that makes the reader fell like they’re living through it with her.

    And it was scary. One minute she was an outgoing, confident young woman and the next she was a paranoid, delusional mess. It came on so suddenly and there were only a few signs that something was wrong before she ended up in the hospital. The tests and incorrect diagnoses she went through before they ever discovered her problem were immense and I’m impressed that her family didn’t give up on her. Their persistence is a testament of their love. Also? I think she might have the best real-life boyfriend ever.

    You know it’s going to end well (she did write the book, after all) but the writing is so immersive and intense, that you wonder how it will all work out. This could have had a very different outcome, and Susannah is very lucky that the right doctor found the right test at the right time.

    The last section of the book deals with the aftermath – how Susannah continues to be affected and the research and development that have gone into the disease since her diagnosis. That section wasn’t as intense as the earlier parts, but it was interesting. In fact, there are interesting facts and tidbits throughout the book, which were especially useful so we would know exactly how Susannah’s brain was misfiring.

    The narrator did a great job, she had the moods and affectations down perfectly. When combined with the fabulous writing, I really felt like I was there in Susannah’s head while she was going through this.

    An intriguing story made even better by the tight writing. Susannah is a gifted writer and I’m amazed this is her first book. Don’t miss it.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer PLANO, TX, United States 12-22-12
    Jennifer PLANO, TX, United States 12-22-12 Listener Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Expected insights into the human condition"

    As soon as it became clear the story would be anecdotal, I hoped for a more engaging story (a la Terri Cheney's "Manic"). I am a junkie for brain-gone-haywire books, and this rates average.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cindy palmdale, CA, United States 11-26-12
    Cindy palmdale, CA, United States 11-26-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Gets Technical"
    What made the experience of listening to Brain on Fire the most enjoyable?

    This story was interesting but after awhile there is a great deal of medical terminology. By the end I skipped forward several times and still seemed to be listening to the same thing.


    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    constance 07-23-14
    constance 07-23-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Great story, tough performance."
    Would you consider the audio edition of Brain on Fire to be better than the print version?

    No, I wish I had read it.


    How could the performance have been better?

    The reader is completely inappropriate, she sounds much too old, and too slick.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Suzanne DeLand, FL, United States 07-12-14
    Suzanne DeLand, FL, United States 07-12-14 Member Since 2004

    * love to work (nursing informatics) * love dogs * love speed * listen to books constantly *

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    "Mesmerizing - get ready for marathon listening"

    Mesmerizing - like a bad car wreck- you can't look away. You'll be listening in your car, in your class, in bed instead of sleeping you'll be listening in the dark. So compelling, you will want to keep on listening until the end. Very well done.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amanda Schilling Virginia Beach, VA USA 03-30-14
    Amanda Schilling Virginia Beach, VA USA 03-30-14 Member Since 2013
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    "The story is intriguing, but the performer isn't."
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    Story: Yes.
    Performance: I was irritated almost the entire time spent listening.


    Would you recommend Brain on Fire to your friends? Why or why not?

    Paper Copy: Yes.
    Audible Performance: No.


    How could the performance have been better?

    The "dramatic" scenes were disingenuous thanks to the performer's daytime soap opera acting skills. I was horrified at what felt so much like a mockery. Any talent behind the text was robbed.


    Could you see Brain on Fire being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    A movie? Sure. But more of a Lifetime movie than a blockbuster hit. Candice Cameron-Bure would be an interesting choice, but I may think that simply because I can't recall the names of other Lifetime movie actresses.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ninjafrompinja COLUMBUS, MS, United States 03-21-14
    ninjafrompinja COLUMBUS, MS, United States 03-21-14 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great book, but the narration doesn't jive."

    While I didn't love the narration, I did really love the writing. It's amazing to experience the miracle that someone has not only gone through this terrible brain illness, but has come back to herself enough to tell the story and to tell it well. It's quite fortunate for the illness itself to have been experienced by a reporter. It's a view all its own.
    More about the narration: There were a lot of words that the narrator pronounced in a really odd way. Odd enough to pull me out of the story. As the book went on, I got a real sense for the author and also a sense that the narrator wasn't on target with it.
    This was a wonderful, amazing, insightful, and informative book, but I will pause when seeing this narrator attached to another book.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chinacoast Washington DC 07-26-13
    Chinacoast Washington DC 07-26-13 Member Since 2013

    CC

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    "interesting read"
    If you could sum up Brain on Fire in three words, what would they be?

    I have three friends who have served from various levels of depression, in some -remote- way they all said they could relate to a lot of the story.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Brain on Fire?

    When one of Susannah's first doctors, "One of the Best" could not/did not find the reason behind her illness. And, like most of us, we listen with respect and at times as a life line.....but, to believe that a doctor, let alone a "One of the Best" can be so out of his/her area of medicine is crazy....but true.


    Which character – as performed by Heather Henderson – was your favorite?

    Susannah


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes!


    Any additional comments?

    I gave a four star rating, but it is a 4.5.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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