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Synopsis

One day in 2009, twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. A wristband marked her as a “flight risk,” and her medical records—chronicling a monthlong hospital stay of which she had no memory at all—showed hallucinations, violence, and dangerous instability. Only weeks earlier, Susannah had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: a healthy, ambitious college grad a few months into her first serious relationship and a promising career as a cub reporter at a major New York newspaper. Who was the stranger who had taken over her body? What was happening to her mind?

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.

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CUSTOMER REVIEWS

Brain on Fire
Average rating
4.1 / 5
Brain on Fire. My Month of Madness.
February 13th, 2015
Fantastic book. Loved it. Takes you on a fascinating ride through not only this illness but through our health care system. The testing and diagnostic techniques alone will keep you reading. The best part is it's all true and written by the person who experienced it.
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1 review
This book has saved lives!
January 31st, 2015
The author takes you on her journey where most of us fear to go, in a way that keeps you turning the page even when you struggle to relate to her reality as she goes deeper into her illness. At times when the human struggle makes you uncomfortable, you might think, well this would never happen to me so why would I go on reading. But the author compels you to read on and find out why it is so important for all of us to learn about this illness.
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1 review
A good, quick read
November 1st, 2014
Susannah Cahalan, a young reporter for the New York Post, goes mad because of a rare virus. She tells her gripping and scary tale after regaining her equilibrium. I didn’t like that this memoir attempts to be too neatly packaged, with a looking-back-on-that-time-in-my-life structure. Cahalan is crazy for much longer than a month, and much of her story she had to piece together from others. She only makes mention of that about three quarters of the way through the memoir. I think it would have been better to explain the difficulty of recounting (and credibility) much sooner. Still, her story is captivating.
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1 review
1 person found this helpful
Weirdly Self-Indulgent
May 25th, 2014
For quite a bit of the book, I genuinely thought the author was faking her illness. When she mentions the Southern expression--the 'blue devils', I think it was--which captures the notion of a young woman falling into self-perpetuating tantrums a la "The Crucible", I thought at first she'd given the game away. However, the presence of Dr. Nahjar and the critical response both to his diagnosis and to her NY Post article convinced me differently. Still, her refusal to follow through with group sessions and her fixation on how she looked after it all and how others looked at her (including the odd recounting of the lawn man ogling her) feels weirdly self-indulgent and, without much effort, I could be brought back to the idea that a lot of her condition was acted out, escaping, as she was, job failure and a hoarder lifestyle at the time it all began.
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1 review
Brain on fire
April 14th, 2014
Incredible information . We have so far to go in the medical field especially with mental health and the brain. So complex. So many who are uncomfortable around it and the unknown.
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1 review
Brain on Fire
March 22nd, 2014
Very interesting and well-written. Quick read.
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1 review
March 4th, 2014
Very interesting read. At times goes a bit too much in depth about the science of it all.. Would definitely recommend
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1 review
February 10th, 2014
Captivating, shocking! Truly touched by this book. Sucked me right in from the moment I started reading and as soon as I finished the book I went and followed her interviews on Youtube about her condition and what she's been up to since the book was released... amazing story, a must read!
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1 review
Good Read
January 26th, 2014
This book was an interesting and informative read. It kept me engaged reading of the authors journey and the medical and scientific aspects were clearly presented.
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1 review
January 24th, 2014
The beginning is interesting but it bogs down in the middle. It is written like an overly long news story. I lost interest toward the end.
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1 review
Really good
January 9th, 2014
Harsd to beleive this wqas a true story, good book
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1 review
Month of madness
December 16th, 2013
It was alright
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1 review
Very informative
December 10th, 2013
Loved this book, the author did a lot of research on her disease. The book was very well written
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1 review
Yes, I would recommend this to a friend.
September 9th, 2013
The story line so far makes me think of the TV show" House'.
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1 review
Brain on Fire
August 29th, 2013
Excellent and unnerving for me. This book got deep into my soul and I know it will be with me in my thoughts for a long, long time. An incredible story.
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1 review
Bored ...Brain
June 9th, 2013
My curiosity kept me reading this book but I never truly got into the story, in the end it was just ok.
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1 review
Enlightening
April 27th, 2013
Had no idea this could happen, and does give possible answers to seemingly inexplicable behaviours that plague some people.
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1 review
Could've been better
March 4th, 2013
Not bad but not the greatest. Beginning was a little slow
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2 reviews
Could've been better
March 4th, 2013
Not bad but not the greatest. Beginning was a little slow
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2 reviews
An Amazing Telling Of An Amazing Story
January 29th, 2013
I can't say much more than the title of this review. If this weren't true, it would have probably been panned for being unbelievable. The fact that this writer had the courage, heart, stamina, and nerve just to get through this experience is remarkable, but even more stunningly, she possesses all of the above in spades to even attempt the article this was based in, let alone the entire book. This is a book that people must read, and they must do so for many reasons. Each person will take different things from this book, but there is still no doubt that it Must. Be. Read. I can honestly say that I look forward to seeking Susannah out and reading whatever it is she may be writing, for this story is made all the more remarkable by the quality of the writing. In the hands of a lesser writer, this still would have been an extraordinary story, but it would not have amounted to the book it is today if not for Susannah's courage to delve into the darkest of places not only once, as she went through this horrible experience, but again when she not only recounted this story, but strove to squeeze some sense out of this mysterious disease that virtually nothing was known about. Ms. Catalan richly deserves every bit of praise she gets for writing this book. As a writer myself, I hold her in high esteem. She is definitely someone whom I can strive to be as I struggle with my own writing. I think every writer should.
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1 review

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