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The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

4.21  ·  Rating Details ·  8,351 Ratings  ·  839 Reviews
Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she's an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis -- and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.

Saks was only eight, and living an otherwise idyllic childhood

Hardcover, 340 pages
Published August 14th 2007 by Hachette Books (first published January 1st 2007)
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Aug 03, 2010 Robert rated it it was amazing
It's a little sad and frustrating when people read this and say things like "whenever she's off her meds, she has an episode, she should just stay on them!".

The most difficult thing in treating mentally ill people is getting them to take and stay on their meds for reasons she details in her book. First, there are usually pretty severe side effects such as permanent nerve damage that causes you to twitch and spasm constantly, have trouble thinking clearly, have no energy and put on a lot of weigh
Moira Russell
Hmmm, this was....interesting. Rather poorly written: emotionally flat all through, often repetitive and very 'cerebral' - the outer sensuous world almost entirely lacking. The middle part, where she describes a full-scale breakdown resulting in restraints and involuntary medication, is harrowing, and should be required reading for medical students, legal students, and indeed psychiatric caregivers. However, her insistence on always having been the best at everything, ever ("I was valedictorian. ...more
Sep 18, 2007 Terry rated it really liked it
This book is written by a friend/mentor of mine at USC. It was extremely bizarre to read something so intimate by & about someone I know, so my experience of reading it will be different from the experience of others. That said, I think it's quite powerful. What Elyn is able to pull off is describing, from her currently "sane" place, what it feels like to be severely schizophrenic. Her bridge-building into that experience is rare and worthwhile, and can move a reader's empathy for the mental ...more
Jul 20, 2008 Rebecca rated it liked it
The Center Cannot Hold offers a rare peek into the raging mind of a schizophrenic. While the author is anything but a case study (she is brilliant and accomplished even by mentally intact standards, whereas schizophrenia is usually accompanied by low IQ and functional impairment) her uncommon mental clarity enables her to shed light on an otherwise inscrutable disorder.

Of the several memoirs of mental illness I've read, this book offers the most convincing dialogue of psychotic and depressed cha
Mar 22, 2016 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars!

This is an eye-opening memoir by a fascinating woman. Elyn R. Saks is a highly functioning intelligent woman with multiple higher degrees from places like Oxford and Yale and she just happens to have Schizophrenia. In this memoir she does battle with her demons and for the most part she wins. I found this to be extremely inspiring.

It is also a look into the way we treat mental health especially in the US. It's pretty bad.
howl of minerva
Elyn Saks is an unusual figure to say the least. An academic superstar: Vanderbilt valedictorian, Marshall scholar to Oxford for graduate study in philosophy (Aristotle's metaphysics in the Greek no less), Yale Law School, tenured faculty at U South California, MacArthur "Genius" Fellow. And since her late teens, battling with schizophrenia: disabling and terrifying bouts of delusions and hallucinations.

High-functioning people with mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder are all arou
Apr 03, 2013 Joanne rated it liked it
I'm going to totally and consciously cop out on this review. Yes, the book was maddening to read at times given the "one step forward, five steps back" nature of her journey. And I beat myself up throughout most of it, as my impatience with Saks's actions grew. She takes the meds. She feels better on the meds. She insists on abandoning the meds. She goes "floridly psychotic," gets hospitalized and has a horrific time of it. Multiply that sequence by 20-25 and you get the first 300 pages of the b ...more
Apr 19, 2013 Torina rated it it was amazing
I finished this book in tears of joy. I don't know if I can do justice to how much this book moved me as a person with schizoaffective disorder. I've read many books by people who have bipolar disorder and some by parents of people with schizophrenia but this was my first book written by someone who has schizophrenia. That sentence is a mess but I think you can gather the gist.

The fact that Elyn is hospitalized and so greatly affected by her schizophrenia, yet goes on to lead a richly successfu
Dec 19, 2013 Cindy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Elyn R. Sak's The Center Cannot Hold tells the story of the author, a Yale law school graduate from a well-to-do family who deals with her chronic depressive schizophrenia amidst the struggles of school, a career, and her own willpower. The book is set in a number of places, such as Miami, Britain, New Haven, and Los Angeles, in the time period between the 1960s and the 1990s, when the world was just learning about how serious mental illnesses can be. Hoping gain some sense of being normal, Saks ...more
Aug 10, 2016 Cathy rated it it was amazing
Elyn was an amazing individual, with schizophrenia, under the best possible circumstances. She acknowledges that her supportive upbringing, affluence, opportunity for psychoanalysis, extreme intelligence and sheer determination are valid factors contributing towards academic success, not being homeless or institutionalized indefinitely and having the ability to form friendships and meaningful relationships. While a struggle to incorporate the three indwelling entities (her as a doctor, her as th ...more
Lindsay Stoffers
Jan 19, 2014 Lindsay Stoffers rated it it was amazing
Unfortunately, schizophrenia as a health condition is often misunderstood. People tend to make assumptions based off of out dated notions of what mental illness is and is not and in turn feed into the stigma of mental health disorders. Elyn Saks tells her story with incredible honesty and vulnerability. In "The Center Cannot Hold" Dr. Saks shares a deeply personal account of her life. As a second year master's student, majoring in Mental Health Counseling, I am so grateful for her courage to sha ...more
Nov 25, 2007 Tracy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in a personal account of schizophrenia
Saks presents an articulate and honest portrayal of her life with schizophrenia, from its early days to the present. She doesn't deny the severity of her symptoms, while also acknowledging that the life she's built for herself is atypical -- she is a married, tenured law professor at USC with degrees from Vanderbilt, Oxford, and Yale. The most devastating part for me was Saks' account of her days in the Yale psychiatric centers, acting out and recognizing that the staff didn't particularly care ...more
Modern Hermeneut
Oct 28, 2007 Modern Hermeneut rated it really liked it
An eye-opening memoir. What it what it lacks in stylistic flare, it more than makes up for in bracing sincerity. The author pulls back the curtains on the subjective experience of schizophrenia.

This is an unflinching testament of what it FEELS like -- not just what it LOOKS like from the outside -- to be in the grip of psychosis. It's also an indictment of the draconian methods often used to "treat" psychotic patients.

Even readers who are well-versed in the literature of psychopathology will fin
May 10, 2015 K rated it really liked it
Elyn Saks is a law professor at University of Southern California Law School and a psychiatry adjunct at University of California School of Medicine. She is also a research clinical associate at the New Center for Psychoanalysis. Professional success aside, Elyn is married, apparently happily. She also has schizophrenia.

In this memoir, Saks recounts her life as, on the one hand, a highly successful individual, and on the other, someone who repeatedly cycled through a series of breakdowns as she
Diana Connor
Nov 01, 2012 Diana Connor rated it it was amazing
This book presented the story of one person's battle with mental illness, but I found that I could connect with the author on so many levels. The author really moved me.

First, I no longer look at people the same. This book drove home for me how difficult mental illness is. Living in San Francisco, most days I see someone walking down the street talking to themselves, someone who very well may have schizophrenia and most likely has some form of mental illness. This book has really enabled me to s
Nov 29, 2014 Jgknobler rated it liked it
Elyn Saks suffers from schizophrenia and says she wrote this book to demonstrate that people with this illness can lead rich and successful lives. She herself teaches at a top law school, has had psychoanalytic training, has written a number of scholarly articles and is married to a kind and understanding man. As a psychiatrist, I found her infuriating, and I imagine her doctors over the years did, too. She takes forever to realize that she absolutely must take antipsychotic medication and, desp ...more
May 31, 2015 Rachel rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2015
This was a very eye opening, and at times, powerful read. It was fascinating to hear about this women, who is such a brilliant academic, and her struggles with schizophrenia.

The content of the book as a whole was very interesting, and I appreciate how frankly she discussed the illness, and that she recognizes that she isn't "the norm."

However, for me, the writing was just too dry to constantly hold my interest. I wasn't enthralled with it, and I couldn't read more than 30-50 pages at a time wit
Maggie Heim
May 18, 2014 Maggie Heim rated it it was amazing
This book added new depth to my ability to think about mental illness. It gave a fullness to my understanding of word salad and psychosis. Getting a firsthand, experiential account of how restraints feel when having a breakdown is invaluable. I now think more critically about what it means to force medicate someone. I have a new humility when considering someone dependent on medication who is struggling with taking it. It's not fair for me to think of it as simple to take the medication and be b ...more
Aug 09, 2007 Jasmine rated it liked it
While this book is pretty rough reading, at the same time, I found it kind of cool. Not only does the author really lay her life out there for everyone to see, including all her thoughts about killing people, but she ends up a totally successful person. Probably more so than I will ever be. At the end, when Saks is trying to sum up what she wants this book to be and why she wrote it, it gets kind of weird: inspiration to other schizophrenics, even though she admits many people with her disorder ...more
Sep 12, 2007 Jenny rated it it was amazing
A fascinating and enlightening memoir about a life lived to its fullest despite suffering from schizophrenia. I learned so much about the inner life of a person with this particular mental illness, and found my heart stirring over and over with compassion for anyone so afflicted. The book is filled with keen metaphors and rich descriptions of psychotic episodes, so intense and so well-described that even though I have never experienced anything similar, I was easily able to imagine such terrifyi ...more
Janie Cai
Feb 13, 2016 Janie Cai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Center Cannot Hold is a refreshing and brutally honest portrayal of what living with schizophrenia is like.

As the title suggests, Elyn Saks takes the reader on a "journey through [her] madness." At the young age of eight, she had her first cursory experience with delusions. At the age of fifteen, after a few fleeting encounters with drugs, her parents sent her to an austere therapy home. The lessons she learned here would set the precedent for her attitude for the majority of her life: drugs
Erika Palmquist Smith
Jun 13, 2013 Erika Palmquist Smith rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013, mental-health
This is easily the best book I've read this year, and one of the best "layman's" books about mental illness that I've ever read. The author, a law professor at USC who struggles with schizophrenia, provides a wonderfully lucid description of what it is like to suffer the symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. She touches on her own personal experiences with hospitalization, the use of restraints, and medication compliance but also ties it into the broader legal implications of decisions like ...more
Christine Fay
Nov 24, 2015 Christine Fay rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
This memoir is a very poignant and educational read by the author who suffers from schizophrenia. People we know and love are currently suffering through diseases of the mind and neural pathways. These people tend to suffer in silence, while the rest of the world goes on with their lives. They are people we know and care about and respect. They are very special, intelligent people who can accomplish great things given a little support and encouragement, and sometimes even medication. The book is ...more
Aiko Dimayuga
Nov 15, 2015 Aiko Dimayuga rated it it was amazing
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks has enlightened my mind and exceeded my expectations all together. Though I strayed from the comfort of my usual fiction/fantasy books, I have no regret of choosing such an inspiring reality. Throughout the duration of my read, I found myself lost in someone else's life, and I feel that this book truly showed me the truth of a life lived with mental illness. I especially enjoyed the ability to understand how schizophrenia develop ...more
Martha Stettinius
Feb 10, 2013 Martha Stettinius rated it it was amazing
An excellent book, and deserving of all its accolades. I read with interest, as my brother, who passed away at age 52, had schizophrenia. Even though Saks admits that her story is exceptional (only 1 in 5 people with schizophrenia are able to hold a job or live independently, and she is a tenured professor), I found hope in her story that a diagnosis of schizophrenia does not necessarily mean the end of a normal life. All I knew before this book was the example of my brother. Dave could never ho ...more
I found this memoir to be truly impressive. There are many memoirs that detail the experience of depression and bipolar disorder. There are memoirs on alcoholism, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But there are very few that give the reader insight into what it is like to be schizophrenic.

Elyn Saks is an accomplished woman: she graduated from Oxford and Yale, and is a tenured law professor. She has also struggled with schizophrenia since her late teens, and relates her experie
Mary Whisner
Elyn Saks opens her memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, with a scene every law student can identify with: three students working in the law library on a weekend night, trying to get a moot court brief done. But the action moves to something most students don't experience, hallucinations that lead her onto the law school's roof and, eventually, to the state mental hospital, where anti-psychotic medications are forced on her.

The memoir offers a gripping inside look at mental illness and its treatment.
Cindy Knoke
Aug 11, 2012 Cindy Knoke rated it it was amazing

Elyn Saks is a remarkable and impressive person. She is a law professor At USC who has schizophrenia and is an advocate for the rights of involuntarily hospitalized psychiatric patients. She is an expert in mental health law and has a special interest in limiting the use of involuntary physical restraint on psychiatric patients which she is interested in due to her own terrifying experiences being involuntarily hospitalized and restrained. She is also an adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD a
Mar 31, 2014 Lubna rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 22, 2010 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
In reading this book I am amazed at how vivid and true it is. Not many people have endured psychosis, depression, delusions or paranoia yet are able to communicate the experience in a way others can understand. This book is marvelous. The truth behind so many of her simple statements is what really got my attention.

Saks should be applauded for opening up her mind to others in a way that hopefully will work dispell the stigma associated with those who have a "severe mental illness".
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Elyn R. Saks, training to be a psychoanalyst, specializes in mental health law, criminal law, and children and the law. Her recent research focused on ethical dimensions of psychiatric research and forced treatment of the mentally ill. She teaches Mental Health Law, Mental Health Law and the Criminal Justice System, and Advanced Family Law: The Rights and Interests of Children. She also teaches at ...more
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“My good fortune is not that I've recovered from mental illness. I have not, nor will I ever. My good fortune lies in having found my life.” 21 likes
“If you are walking on a path thick with brambles and rocks, a path that abruptly twists and turns, it's easy to get lost, or tired, or discouraged. You might be tempted to give up entirely. But if a kind and patient person comes along and takes your hand, saying, "I see you're having a hard time- here, follow me, I'll help you find your way," the path becomes manageable, the journey less frightening.” 18 likes
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