Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  38,260 ratings  ·  3,957 reviews
A gripping memoir and medical suspense story about a young New York Post reporter’s struggle with a rare and terrifying disease, opening a new window into the fascinating world of brain science.

One day, Susannah Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records—from a month-long hospital stay of w...more
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Free Press (first published 2012)
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Brain on Fire by Susannah CahalanFight Club by Chuck PalahniukThe Day the Music Died by Blair EvansThe Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings by Edgar Allan PoeBefore I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Madness Real and Imagined
1st out of 30 books — 56 voters
Stiff by Mary RoachThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver SacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseyThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Medicine and Literature
71st out of 953 books — 1,106 voters

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Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes
Apr 26, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jim McCasland
Susannah Cahalan, a young journalist working at a great (ok not so great, kinda schlocky actually) metropolitan newspaper, suddenly notices things going awry. She starts having episodes of paranoia, becomes hypersensitive to sound, light and cold. She suffers from loss of appetite and begins having out-of-body experiences and wild mood swings. A tour of New York psych and neuro pros did not yield much more than a suspicion that she had been partying too hard. On the other hand, grand mal seizure...more
I rarely read memoirs. Too often the author spends far too much time painting themselves in the best possible light and/or justifying their behavior. It is a rare and gifted author that can objectively describe a personal event without infusing it with strong emotions.

Perhaps Susannah was able to accomplish this huge feat due to the simple fact that she was unaware of herself much of the time that her brain was inflamed. She begins with the first noticeable symptom; a couple of bed bug bites tha...more
Bonnie Jean
Nov 29, 2012 Bonnie Jean rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nurses, anyone.
I took care of a patient with this rare, tragic, and intriguing disorder called Anti-NMDA Receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis. Her complex and terrifying journey through this disease in ongoing. Over the course of caring for her, her sister mentioned this book.

In this rare disorder, people often pass through a range of bizarre psychiatric symptoms that lead to catatonia and then often death as the body become unable to regulate itself, as with the patient I cared for in ICU. With the young woman w...more
Jen McLeod
You could probably call this a great piece of investigative reporting. Unfortunately for me, it was instead labelled as a memoir, leaving me feeling exasperated and mislead. I guess I was hoping for something akin to the more enjoyable memoirs that I've read (I'm thinking The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, or even Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, which is not so much memoir as it is fiction based on memoir - beside the point). This was more like an excruciatingly long newspaper article, ch...more
Imagine one day you are fine, going to work and doing what you always done, then out of the blue you start acting strange. You become paranoid, eventually you start hearing voices and attempt jumping out of moving vehicles.

You must caught a bit of the crazy right?

Maybe not. This is what happened to Susannah Cahalen, a reporter for the New York Post. One morning she saw a couple of bug bites on her arm and was convinced she had a bed bug infestation. She brought exterminators into her home, even...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Rating = 3.5 stars

The most amazing thing about this book was that she was able to write it at all, given her descent into non-functionality. She is a lucky young woman indeed, in so many many ways.

For personal reasons, I'm not going to write a proper review of this book. What I have to say would most certainly invite irritating and argumentative comments from strangers, and I'm just NEVER in the mood for those people.
I started this book last night, and couldn't put it down until I finished it this morning. I know her story all too well as I've been in a similar dark place myself. Aphasia, myoclonus, amnesia, jemais vu, hyperesthesia, allodynia, hemiparesis, paresthesia, cognitive impairment, impaired executive function, depersonalization, neuropsychological assessments, hemiplegic, acephalgic -- words that began to define my life just last year.

Her story is a remarkable one, but as a journalist, I believe sh...more
I cannot figure out why it is so difficult for me to write reviews for books I am passionate about, or which I loved! In looking back at the books I've read on, I realized that almost all of the highest rated books on my shelves have 2 sentence reviews, if any. I guess that's why it's taken a month to figure out what exactly I want to say about Brain on Fire, a medical memoir by journalist Susannah Cahalan.

Where do I begin?! Cahalan develops a mysterious illness over the course of...more
Claire McAlpine
A fascinating insight into a rare autoimmune disease which causes the body to attack itself and in this case - the brain. This truly is a story that can (and has) change lives, the writer, a reporter on the New York Post observes her own physical and mental decline and then as her mind descends into chaos, she recalls nothing. Her account is pulled together from interviews, hospital video footage and the journal of her family, until her brain begins to regenerate memory.

It's the path that many f...more
Brain on Fire is brilliant. I rarely give a 5 star rating. Ms. Cahalan writes the brutal truth---even when it isn't favorable towards her.
She doesn't attempt to persuade readers to pity her or think she is a heroine. She just writes the facts of her scary tale.
And it is frightening. It made me step back and wonder if I would be strong enough to battle back from something similar. Would my loved ones be willing to fight on my behalf when I wasn't able?
I applaud Susannah Cahalan for her honesty,...more
Apr 10, 2014 Carmen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Psychology and Neuroscience fans
Recommended to Carmen by: Library
Shelves: non-fiction
A must read for anyone interested in psychology, or neuroscience.

Susannah is a successful 24-year-old reporter. She has a good relationship with her boyfriend, her divorced parents, and her little cat.

Then she wakes up with a bug bite on her arm. She is convinced that bedbugs are infesting her apartment. She calls the exterminator to spray, even though he insists there's no sign of bugs.

And what's with all this junk? Why is she holding on to all this stuff? She starts to throw away everything sh...more
Wonderful, wonderful book.

I'm a neurologist, and it's amazing to see a book written from a patient's perspective, especially one with a such a good outcome. The book progresses from the starting of the disease process and right up to the recovery stage. It's unnerving to read about the psychotic episodes, the complex partial seizures, the generalised seizures and ultimately, the catatonia. It must have been very frightening for both the author and her loved ones to witness all of those events u...more
This book is 100% not at all what I normally gravitate towards when I choose a leisure book to read. However, I'm so glad that I got the opportunity to read this via an Advance Reader's Edition for my job.

Brain on Fire is being touted as a harrowing journey into the month-long disease-induced madness that plauged a young woman (no more than a year older than I am now). This book is no Patricia Cornwell medical thriller. But it is a fascinating medical mystery, as the author explains and explor...more
Powerful, eye opening, life changing.
Anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis is a disease now believed to have been around since the beginning of time. It only recently found a name, still no explanation. The symptoms range from hallucinations, seizures, paranoia, rigid zombie like movements, loss of normal cognitive functions, ability to do average every day things, The diagnosis varies from psychosis, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, or cancer. The disease progresses rapidly, taking a li...more
New York Post journalist Susannah Cahalan wakes up with two bug bites on her arm; she is sneezed upon by a man in the subway.

A week later, she compulsively tears apart her boyfriend's apartment, searching for evidence that he's cheating on her (a completely uncharacteristic action).

Days later, she succumbs to migraines and calls in to work sick; parts of her body go numb. She goes through manic episodes and depressive episodes. Nothing like this has ever happened to her before.

Then... a month...more
I found this book troubling. Not because of the medical mystery -- that was the most interesting of all. It seems that the book would be better written in the third person, by someone other than the author/experiencer of the madness. By her own account, she cannot describe what it felt like to have her brain be on fire. The book says she uses journalistic techniques to piece together. And yet these tidbits drop in without much sense of how they were discovered (except for the case of the videota...more
I devoured this fascinating book in a matter of days. It's an intelligent young woman's memoir of her frightening descent into the vortex of a mysterious madness. Really makes one appreciate (and sort of fear) the vast complexity of the brain and the apparent ease with which it can suddenly pull a Benedict Arnold on its unsuspecting body. Or maybe it's the body that betrays the brain? The most engaging aspect of reading this book is wondering what in the world precipitated her downward spiral, s...more
Brain on Fire: Quick, call the fire department! What? They can’t find the fire? It’s still raging and the firefighters are driving around in circles. Help! This is a memoir about a young woman, Susannah, who suddenly became psychotic and then developed a host of other neurological problems, such as seizures, slurred speech, and poor motor skills. And it’s about the journey her family took to find a correct diagnosis in hopes of containing the raging wildfire.

I may be trying to be clever and cute...more
I cannot describe how amazing I thought this book was. When I told my mother about it she said, "And this is fiction?" When I let her know this was a true story she said, "Are you serious?" The fascinating and scary thought is that yes, this is a true story, and that our amazing and mysterious bodies has the capability to attack itself without warning is frightening. I found this to be scientific but not boring. Full of suspense without being "dramatic." If I was able to have done so, I would ha...more
Crystal Starr Light
Bullet Review:

Don't faint, people, but I actually really, really enjoyed this book! A fascinating look into a strange, House-like medical mystery. I honestly couldn't stop listening to this book once I started! The author writes her story so adeptly, so skillfully! I love how she makes it almost fiction with dialogue and such, but somehow interweaves these information sections on what tests and diseases they were considering as she goes through treatment as such. And the narrator! The perfect pe...more
Where I got the book: purchased on Kindle.

I devoured this one during a transatlantic flight; it's exactly the right kind of book for reading in one or two sittings. The true story of how Susannah Cahalan turned from a feisty young career journalist into a drooling madwoman with occasional lucid moments AND THEN BACK AGAIN. Because some very, very weird things can happen to the brain; I imagine quite a few people spent their lives in asylums when they could have been medicated back to normality i...more
Sarah Cofer
I devoured this book in one sitting. Wow! Really well done! I find myself drawn to non-fiction bios more and more these days. This one reads like fiction. Susannah is a VERY successful reporter at New York Post? (i think...) One day she starts to not feel quite right. A tingle/numbness on the left side of her body. Other symptoms crop up: lethargy, forgetfullness, sleeplessness, etc. Soon she starts acting erratic...OCD behavior. This is just her slow decent into madness. She starts hallucinatin...more
We are, in the end, a sum of our parts, and when the body fails, all the virtues we hold dear go with it.

A penetrating memoir about how fragile our lives are. The author did a very good job at painting a complete picture of what happened and how it affected her. We get to see the build up to her sickness, her uncertainty of how to deal with all the changes in her personality. Through the eyes/memories of her loved ones we get to experience her lowest points, as she can't remember any of this. Bu...more
Gary Anderson
Brain on Fire is New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan’s gripping memoir about her horrific experience with a rare brain inflammation. The attack first manifested itself behaviorally—hallucinations, impulsive actions, anxiety—so Cahalan’s case was misunderstood and misdiagnosed as mental illness. After descending into a nearly catatonic state, a brilliant doctor correctly diagnosed Cahalan’s affliction as anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. In simpler terms, Cahalan’s autoimmune system...more
Dec 14, 2012 Pandem rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: humans, people interested in medical stories
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the scariest book I have ever read. . .and I've read the grand majority of Stephen King's books, plus some Dean Koontz.

Imagine waking up in a hospital bed, strapped down. Most of us would expect to be told that there was some sort of accident and we were hurt and had been unconscious since the accident, a day or so ago, or maybe even that we'd been in a coma for a while - maybe a few months.

But that's not what happened to Susannah Cahalan. She woke up in a hospital and found she'd been t...more
LaQuita (Just Us Girls)
I have to say I normally don't read memoirs, autobiographies or even biographies, I'm more of a YA book kind of girl, but when I was asked to read Brain On Fire and after looking up what it was about, I definitely was intrigued.

From the first page of the author's notes, I was hooked. I wanted to see how this happened and the journey this young girl went through to be where she is today. This book tells you the story of a young woman, Susannah Cahalan's point of view as well as her families, doc...more
This was like being in the middle of the most complex episode of the series "House". But with someone you know. Not that you really know this person, but after reading the first chapter or two, you become so involved in her life, you become fully invested in finding out "what the hell "is going on. I wanted to grab the doctors by the throat and say "WTF is wrong with you, what can't you figure out what is wrong? Here is a brilliant woman that is falling aperture before your very eyes and you don...more
I personally feel that this book embraced both fear and courage. Being a medical student myself, i wonder how the patients cope with their suffering and how it pains the family members more than anything. But it is also soothing to know that the doctors and the supportive staffs are giving their best to help whatever they can. It is a wonderful read; from beginning to end. I feel inspired to be better, and motivated to fill my purpose in the future. I'm sure it took a lot of courage to muster an...more
I haven't read any of Cahalan's reportage but I take it she's a better journalist than memoir writer. The book has the feel of an editor's hand massaging the words to be more "writerly" or engaging, but it doesn't quite work. A lot of adverbs, a lot of focus on how awful a particular moment was for this family member or that; basically a lot of telling. Thus, the writing falls flat, and the reader rarely feels an emotional connection to the narrator. I was interested, sure. I did want to find ou...more
Susannah Cahalan (not Calahan), extrovert, ambitious NY Post reporter finds her world turned upside down one day. She thinks she hears her step-father call her a slut while riding in a car with him, her mom and boyfriend. She does bizarre things, flies into rages and then suddenly becomes catatonic. What is going on? Many medical professionals think she belongs in a mental institution, but fortunately for Susannah her family and boyfriend believe in her and are committed to finding answers, the...more
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Susannah Cahalan is the New York Times bestselling author of "Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness," a memoir about her struggle with a rare autoimmune disease of the brain. She writes for the New York Post. Her work has also been featured in the New York Times, Scientific American Magazine, Glamour, Psychology Today, and others.
More about Susannah Cahalan...

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“We are, in the end, a sum of our parts, and when the body fails, all the virtues we hold dear go with it.” 44 likes
“Sometimes, Just when we need them, life wraps metaphors up in little bows for us. When you think all is lost, the things you need the most return unexpectedly.” 43 likes
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