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A Lethal Inheritance: A Mother Uncovers the Science behind Three Generations of Mental Illness

3.51  ·  Rating Details ·  154 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
Every family has secrets; only some secrets are lethal. In Victoria Costello's family mental illness had been given many names over at least four generations until this inherited conspiracy of silence finally endangered the youngest members of the family, her children.

In this riveting story--part memoir, detective story, and scientific investigation--in the tradition of th
Paperback, 220 pages
Published January 2012 by Prometheus Books
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Mar 20, 2012 Jennie rated it really liked it
The first part of the book was a little slow for me. It was more of the research and part memior of her son Alex's schizophrenia. It was a heavy subject so I often only read 10-20 pages at a time. I'm sure it would be more applicable to families that face similar situations.

My interest was more in the correlation of mental illness and addiction. I have a family history of both. It was interesting Victoria's findings of the mental health issues when she did some digging into her Irish heritage. I
Apr 06, 2012 Jen rated it it was amazing
Absolutely marvelous. A must read for parents regardless of whether you believe there is or is not mental illness in your ancestry. Learning about the intersection of genetics and environment is crucial for living in todays world. Whether your cause, your issue is mental health, learning disabilities, environmental safety, addiction, prenatal care, cancer prevention/treatment or a host of other things, this concept of G x E is crucial.

The memoir parts offer compelling evidence of the authors sin
Lauren Tevepaugh
Sep 03, 2015 Lauren Tevepaugh rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed how the book transitions from memoir to a novel on scientific research. Victoria Costello began to write the novel when her son, Alex, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Costello then decided to trace her family's history involving mental illness. Not only did she write about her son, but she had also discussed her own mental illness which was depression and alcoholism. I found it extremely interesting how she traced her family’s illnesses. On her father’s side, there wa ...more
Lisa Powell
Apr 24, 2012 Lisa Powell rated it really liked it
This book was very informative and gives hope that even though a child may be genetically disposed to a mental illness, there are ways to recognize indicative behaviors and prevent the disease...often without the use of drugs.
Feb 18, 2012 Angela rated it liked it
Very interesting. But if you are a parent who suffers from anxiety or depression - this book will make you anxious and depressed. Fact.
Apr 17, 2012 Jane rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very Good. Very Interesting. Lots of facts and studies. Well researched. Written in a very readable, storylike fashion.
Aug 06, 2014 Trena rated it it was ok
I keep striking out on schizophrenia books. I was extremely disappointed by Stalking Irish Madness: Searching for the Roots of My Family's Schizophrenia, which turned out to be some guy's random musings on schizophrenia in his family. What with having the word "science" in the title I thought this book would be about, you know, science. But it is not. It is some woman's random musings on schizophrenia in her family.

She makes an effort to dress up her memoir with science, but I didn't trust anyt
May 25, 2012 Kate rated it it was amazing
If you have any questions about how your mental health history, and the mental health of anyone in your family tree, might impact your children, you should read this book. It's part scientific review, part memoir. And it offered a lot of things to think about - some more obvious than others - regarding the importance of knowing your mental health history so as to be a better parent. Like the fact that the more you dig into your family history, the better equipped you are to recognize and address ...more
Rhonda Rae Baker
This is a powerfully researched topic with memoir interlaced for example. Not an easy read, especially if there is body memory that surfaces, which was my case. I learned so much and had to go back and reread sections for greater understanding.

I cannot express how important this information is, especially to those with mental illness in their family background. Being an adoptee, I knew nothing of my history...this greatly hindered my own life and damaged my children because I was unable to help
Nov 13, 2012 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star
This was an incredibly fascinating and informative book. When Victoria Costello's older son was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 18 she starts to delve into mental health and try to figure out how best to help him. What she realizes a few years after her son's diagnosis is that she first needs to look at herself and her family's mental health history. But, looking into her family medical history she quickly realizes that there are 4 generations of mental illness at work and that she al ...more
Jan 13, 2012 Skye rated it it was amazing
This book has changed my life with regards to really taking a closer look at some of the "secrets" in my own ancestors' history. Is there a generic link to alcoholism? What about mental illness? What is really behind some of my grandmother's odd behavior? And my mothers? Have I followed in suit?

I applaud Victoria Costello for boldly taking a journey backward in time to research the skeletons in her closet. Through examining generations of psychiatric issues, she has uncovered risk factors and ea
What a courageous and eye-opening view of not only a mother navigating her children through the mental-health field, but also recognizing her own struggle with mental illness. Having seen my brother's mental illness and then facing my own, I found Ms. Costello's account to be very moving. I think her science-writing background bodes well here, but she also makes all of it quite accessible.
Jan 19, 2014 Gordon rated it really liked it
This is an important book for all of us. Health workers, teachers, parents need this information.

Costello looks into the research on GxE, genetics and environment. There has long been a suspicion that most mental problems have an underlying genetic cause that is triggered by an environmental factor. Now the research is getting specific about those combined factors. This information is beginning to reach the treatment and prevention phase. While the book is focused primarily on schizophrenia, the
Nov 01, 2013 Joanne-in-Canada rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with family mental health concerns
Recommended to Joanne-in-Canada by: Diane
Shelves: non-fiction
Costello blends a frank recounting of her family's history of mental health issues with descriptions and evaluation of scientific research to encourage readers to examine and deal with their past, present and future. Some of the information is densely written--yet accessible--and worth the time and effort.
Aug 13, 2016 Holly rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012-reads
The intended audience is families dealing with depression, addiction, and especially, schizophrenia. I'm sure this book will be extremely helpful and edifying for those readers who want to understand the basics of the disease.
Jul 18, 2014 Peggy rated it it was amazing
A mother uncovers the science behind three generations of mental illness in her family. I liked this book and felt like it gave me a lot of useful information about preventing and recognizing mental illness in your family. She also talks about her family and relates personal experiences with her two sons, one who is bi-polar and one who is schizophrenic, as well as discovering that she herself needed to be treated for depression.
She also shares findings about clinical studies and new advances in
Jul 22, 2012 Van rated it liked it
I like the personal stories and some of the scientific explanations but I do get bogged down in some of the medical jargon.
Angie Mangino
Jan 02, 2013 Angie Mangino rated it it was amazing
A Lethal Inheritance
By Victoria Costello
Reviewed by Angie Mangino
Rating: 5 stars

As a working single mother, Victoria Costello uses her expertise as a science journalist to include a historical rendering of facts from studies done to support her work about mental illness. She shows the cross-generational pattern that many times prevents obtaining necessary treatment, which causes untold pain in families.

A Lethal Inheritance begins with incidents that opened her eyes to see and act on what wa
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Apr 26, 2015 Cindy Dyson Eitelman rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-14
Through no fault of the book's, I somehow convinced myself it would be more history and less science. Thus I was disappointed...but only the tiniest little bit so. You can't manufacture family history to make a great story better--but you can tell the truth. (She did.)

It's a story of one mother and her difficult fight for her two son's mental health--and ultimately her own--but it's also a story of the science, research, history and future of mental illness in the world. I can't even list all of
Dec 10, 2013 Jacob rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 04, 2015 Jennifer rated it liked it
A memoir by a woman researching her family's medical history to discover a genetic link between her ancestors' mental health and her and her sons' mental illnesses. The book has some interesting info about how the brain works and what happens when certain parts of the brain begin to deteriorate. Also, very cool details on symptoms of and triggers for mental illness in adolescents. Most of the book covers mental illness in young people, including children, and the debate over whether to treat at- ...more
Jan 19, 2015 Kara rated it really liked it
As a mental health advocate and as a person with a mental illness, I thought this book was good. BUT if you have trouble separating your mental illness from your "issues" and definitely from how those neuroses affect your child, this may not be for you.
Aug 10, 2012 Michelle rated it it was amazing
I may add more later, but wanted to say I really enjoyed this book. I felt it was an engaging mix of memoir and science writing. There was enough memoir that it reads almost like a thriller, but the information mixed in is very detailed and carefully researched and referenced. Some areas of the book are more seamless than others, but I didn't think it detracted from the point. At 230 pages of actual writing, it's a quick read.

While this is a book that can certainly be read and enjoyed by the ma
Jul 31, 2016 Katherine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A really very engaging read, especially for anyone interested in the risk and development of mental illness in families with a lineage of disease. Despite painting an honest and unromantic portrait of life with a child progressing towards psychosis, this is actually a pretty upbeat book. The author suggests a number interventions, big and small, that empirical evidence suggests may reduce, delay, or even prevent the onset of disease in individuals who carry a genetic predisposition to mental ill ...more
Jul 27, 2014 Jessica rated it did not like it
Shelves: mental-health
Too much drama. She says that she hopes that mental illness treatment will progress until mental illness is only as bad as cancer (p. 34). Enough said.
Feb 27, 2014 HeavyReader marked it as did-not-read-it-all
Shelves: first-reads
Ok, so I didn't read this book at all.

I won it through First Reads right at the start of a CRAZY time in my life and ended up not reading it. I can't remember if I gave it away or turned it in for trade at a used book store.

I wouldn't even list it, but I want to put in on my First Reads shelf, since I DID win it.
I found myself very disappointed with this book. I thought it was strictly on the science and nature of mental illnesses, but it became more of a memoir with lots of repeats. Good for basic, general information. Could have been so much better.
Jan 06, 2013 Carol rated it liked it
Shelves: autobiography
A mother reviews her family history when her teenage son develops mental illness. The thread of mental illness is explored throughout the generations. Clear that there is a genetic link to some mental illness.
Gwen Harrison
Mar 22, 2016 Gwen Harrison rated it it was amazing
A must read for any parent who has a family history of mental health issues. Early intervention is the key to healthy outcomes. Highly recommend this book!
Jun 15, 2012 Colleen rated it did not like it
I thought this book would less personal memoir and more understanding the general nature of family shared mental illnesses.
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Why I wrote this book... 1 8 Dec 23, 2011 10:02AM  
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  • The River of Forgetting: A Memoir of Healing from Sexual Abuse
I'm a science and parenting writer with two recent books that I'm excited to share with my Goodreads friends. I tell the deeply personal story of my ten-year journey from despair to recovery and joy for myself and my two sons in my upcoming memoir, A LETHAL INHERITANCE, A MOTHER UNCOVERS THE SCIENCE BEHIND THREE GENERATIONS OF MENTAL ILLNESS.I'm thrilled with some of my early reviews...Andrew Solo ...more
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