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Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety

3.25  ·  Rating details ·  7,516 ratings  ·  883 reviews
In the insightful narrative tradition of Oliver Sacks, Monkey Mind is an uplifting, smart, and very funny memoir of life with anxiety—America’s most common psychological complaint.

Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind is the stunning articulation of what it is like to live with anxiety. As he travels through anxiety’s demonic layers, Smith defangs the disorder with great humor and ev
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published July 3rd 2012 by Simon Schuster
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Average rating 3.25  · 
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 ·  7,516 ratings  ·  883 reviews

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Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've been putting off writing this review because it's hard to conceive of doing it justice in a couple paragraphs.

Having struggled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder since I was a little kid, I've read plenty of books about anxiety. Mostly nonfiction from the medical/psych fields, of the "about anxiety" and/or "how to manage anxiety" camp(s). Daniel Smith's book is nothing like that, in that it doesn't attempt to teach or enlighten. Rather, it's his story--his account of what life looks like whi
Jun 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
4/22/2016 UPDATE: I had a severe anxiety disorder for over 10 years, I reached a point where I was panicking about going outside. I can now say that I haven't had a panic attack in over 6 months and it is the greatest feeling in the world. This book didn't cure me, but it helped me understand I was not alone. There are so many varying degrees of panic attacks, and I felt like I was a little more extreme than Daniel, but it doesn't matter - we all have panic attacks and we all want to be better. ...more
Emma Sea
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, rape, non-fiction
EDIT 29 May:

Following the reaction to my naming of Smith's experience as rape (see comments), I re-read the book, with an open mind, looking for evidence of this consensual but regretted activity some people seem to see. I still see only rape.

It's clearer than ever to me that Smith has been groomed by a predatory adult, does not want to have sex, and doesn't know how to get out of it.

To avoid unwanted sex is not an easy thing. There's a great column by Katie Halper in which she details her str
Jul 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who has anxiety, knows someone with anxiety or has an interest in the topic
Daniel Smith made four general observations about anxiety that shows how intimate he is with this particular affliction:

1. Anxiety starts from fear. Once anxious, the brain looks for more things to be fearful of, which begets the cycle. Essentially, anxiety is addictive.

2. There is no cure for anxiety. Only treatment and treatment only works if one is committed to the long process.

3. Anxiety sufferers are not "crazy." Crazy implies a break from reality. Anxiety may be a result of being in "to
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Over the last couple of years, I have read a variety of books about anxiety disorders… books that were targeted mainly to mental health professionals. There is a history of anxiety disorders in my family and several years ago after a traumatic incident, one of my children began suffering from bouts of anxiety which interfered with his quality of life. Although reading the plethora of information about anxiety disorders was helpful in understanding the illness, I was looking for a book that would ...more
Jo Anne B
Jul 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
It seemed like the author was trying to emulate David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs with his witty take on his anxiety. Instead he took a very serious topic and made a joke out of it. Most of the book was spent talking about his sexual relationships that he had as a teenager. He claims those in combination with his overbearing mother gave him anxiety. This book was very incoherent and had no purpose. There was a lucid moment at the end of the book that basically said he would never not have anxi ...more
Rob Freund
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
I'm going to do something that I've never done before in a book review. I'm going to recommend that you NOT read this book. It's not because Monkey Mind isn't an effective expose on what an individual suffering from chronic anxiety lives with; it is. It's at times darkly funny, as Smith has few problems poking fun at his own complexes. Other times it's very informative; you can tell he has done his research, and hasn't relied solely on personal experience. All in all, Monkey Mind is engaging, a ...more
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
As much as I like Smith (I heard him on WTF w/ Marc Maron), this book just didn't pull me in. Smith doesn't really convey what it feels like to suffer from crippling anxiety. I kept thinking back to Marya Hornbacher's Madness: A Bipolar Life. Hornbacher drags us into her mind. When she's manic, we feel invincible. When she's down, we really don't see how things could get better. I left that memoir feeling dizzied, dazed, like I'd suffered with her.

Smith, by contrast, doesn't seem to take his su
Sep 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: forsaken
I read the first 60 or 70 pages word for word. I wanted to stop reading after the intro but I'd heard good things about this book so I pressed on. However, after about the first 60 or 70 pages, I skimmed the rest of the book.

This is the author's memoir of life with anxiety. That said, the book loses its focus time and again as the author goes on tangents that are unrelated to the topic of the book.

In my opinion, the nervous disorder called anxiety is very complicated, subtle, chronic, baffling,
Moira Russell
Jul 12, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: ebook, on-the-kindle
The first quarter or so of this book is very funny, describing his severe anxiety in general. It becomes markedly less funny and dangerously boring when the author talks at great length about how he went to college and was basically saved by reading Philip Roth (ugh). Even though he keeps insisting his own family is nothing like Roth's, he winds up blaming a great deal of his problems on his mother (she's too anxious herself, the atmosphere at home was too chaotic, &c &c). He says his father's a ...more
Jul 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
A horrible and too loosely woven memoir. I would like those past few hours of my life back. Oprah's book recommendations failed me terribly this time. This poor guy is clearly suffering, and there are moments of clarity where he is actually able to articulate what it is like to have an anxiety disorder, but most of the book is an incoherent, self -serving collection of quotations and the author does not do justice to his topic . Booo. ...more
Jul 21, 2012 rated it liked it
A.J. Jacobs cover-blurbs Daniel Smith's Monkey Mind. This is not necessarily a positive harbinger. Jacobs has spawned a genre of cutsey-but-not-horrible books in which the author does something wacky like buying a Korean deli or living according to strict Biblical tenets then keeps a diary of his travails and insecurities. Monkey Mind ventures into more serious territory but retains the basic formula. Smith outlines his history with anxiety while straddling the “not too serious” Jacobs approach. ...more
Dec 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: head-disorders
I had high hopes for this memoir but ultimately was disappointed. What I wanted (lower my expectations, I tell myself) was a book full of rich anecdotes; an honest journey through one person’s anxiety. What I got instead was a book with some anecdotes but an equal number of dissertations on philosophy. Smith, obviously a smart cookie, mentions Freud a few too many times, but his diatribe on Kierkegaard is the deal breaker. If I ever want to read about Kierkegaard’s take on anxiety, which I most ...more
Jan 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Daniel Smith's memoir may deserve better than this middling score, but here's where I'm coming from: reading about someone else's anxiety doesn't help me with my own. I knew going in that this wasn't a self-help book – I wouldn't have read it if it was – but I was hoping that by reading Smith's "memoir of anxiety" I might gain some insight into the condition I've wrestled with since my early teenage years. While I felt myself nodding along ("Yeah, that sounds familiar. So does that. And that."), ...more
So I read this book as part of the #MHAReadathon which focuses on highlighting Mental Health conditions and talking about them. I had never read about anxiety before, and I didn't expect this to be as frank as it turned out to be, but I liked that.
This is the story of Daniel Smith's life, it's not made up, it's real, and it's not a story about everything getting better, it's an on-going battle. I think before reading this I understood the concept of anxiety, but I didn't necessarily understand h
Sep 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs, angst
An amusing but slightly long-winded memoir by a writer suffering from severe anxiety. Daniel Smith begins the book by trying to find the origin of his anxieties. What event in childhood caused him to start panicking? His mother, a psychotherapist, also suffers from anxiety and is able to help, but Daniel thinks she may have been part of the problem. My favorite chapter was when Daniel got a job at The Atlantic magazine as a fact-checker. He's thrilled to be working there, but it also causes him ...more
Diane Yannick
Aug 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book did not work for me on so many levels. I did not want to follow Daniel Smith on his many long egotistical meanderings. I never felt that he was totally sincere or interested in developing a compelling narrative. His attempts to add humor to his saga felt labored. He showed his mother's personality through her actions and that rang true. His own personality was mostly shown through rivers of words that didn't resonate with me. I think that his editors let him down. His struggles with an ...more
Ellie Midwood
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
“Monkey Mind” is a very interesting personal account of a person living with anxiety. While reading it, I realized that I could easily relate to certain things (compulsive overthinking, disaster scenarios, difficulty concentrating, the dread of social interactions, the need for a certain routine in order to feel in control of the situation, obsession with getting everything perfect or the world will end lol) but I also realized that my anxiety isn’t as severe as compared to what the author had t ...more
Jun 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Trigger warning: in review - mention of rape; in book - (view spoiler)

This is a memoir of anxiety, as the subtitle states, more so than a memoir of a person with anxiety. While the description presents this book as providing a sense of how anxiety feels for all anxiety sufferers, in reality, it presents how anxiety feels to one person who has moderate to severe generalized anxiety likely
Dean Italiano
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Yeah, you can say it piqued my interest. I told (hubby) he didn't have to read it, as he's lived with it for over 20 years. If you have any kind of ANXIETY, the kind that makes you feel on the outside of normal, you might enjoy this book. That is, if you feel it is psychologically healthy for you to do so. You may or may not be as bad, the same as, or worse than the examples given by the Jewish boy-teen-man, but the anxiety is presented in such a way that it's almost a character. It's lightheart ...more
Harry Rubenstein
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A very well written, brutally honest, humorous and semi-dark memoir of living with anxiety. I discovered Daniel Smith via his excellent column about Jews and anxiety in the NYTimes. Though some of the content hit a bit too close to home, it was not anxiety attack inducing but rather provided me with the feeling that I was in good company. Don't read this if you are looking for a book offer solutions and remedies, but rather a real portrayal of what is like living with an anxiety disorder. Great ...more
Sep 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a really funny book about a condition that is no fun at all. It sums up very well the thoughts that go through an anxious mind. We all experience anxiety on some level, but chronic, debilitating anxiety is a different beast altogether and Smith describes it with a great sense of humor and compassion. If you've ever suffered from really bad anxiety or know somebody who has, this will make a very entertaining read. ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
The difference between David Sedaris and Daniel Smith is that Sedaris bares his soul for his readers ultimate entertainment and his woe-is-me stories are hysterically funny, as well as informative. When Daniel Smith talks about his anxiety disorders all I can think about is sending him a bill for therapy. He is at times mildly amusing, but not up to the hype he has received. Tell-alls should be more like tell-somes.

Sep 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Daniel Smith's Monkey Mind is subtitled "A Memoir of Anxiety", and it sounds so promising: a smart, intimate, honest account of one person's battle with an acute, crippling mental illness, combined with a broader perspective of treatments, societal reactions/misunderstandings, etc., like what Andrew Solomon did with depression in his great Noonday Demon, one of my all-time favorites, or Elyn Saks with schizophrenia with her also pretty great The Center Cannot Hold. AND Smith is supposedly "laugh ...more
Erica  Skrine
I originally gave this book 1 star. There were just parts that were so boring due to the the author's citing psychologists and other medical speak....It is not that I don't appreciate that. It just not what I was looking for in this book. I just wanted to know his story as I also suffer from Anxiety Disorder. I just wanted to hear another person's story about their suffering.
With that said, I did get that out of this book once I got through all psychological jargon.
Jun 25, 2012 rated it liked it
I'm not sure if I was supposed to laugh as much as I did at Mr. Smith's memoir. This is one of the funniest and most insightful books I've read in a long time. Let me be clear - I wasn't laughing at Mr. Smith, but with him. He writes with great candor of the monumental ridiculousness of the various situations in which he has found himself owing to his long-term struggle with extreme anxiety. The panic attack at the Arby's "fixins" counter kept me going for days.

More than a memoir, Mr. Smith inc
Jul 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Any one that suffers from chronic anxiety and those that love them.
Monkey Mind takes a different approach to the issue of anxiety that most books on the topic might choose. The reader is presented with three of the authors significant battles with anxiety and takes the reader from the start (or the perceived start) of the problem through how he has dealt and deals with the anxiety in his life.

For those who suffer the affects of chronic anxiety the memoir gives reassurance that while the anxiety will always be something you have to deal with it doesn't have to
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's psychotherapy-as-book-review time:
I picked up a copy of this book because I hoped it would give my anxiety some perspective. Some days I can't even bring myself to leave the house, and even on my good days, I feel skinless and raw. It's always been that way, and lately it's been getting worse.
The good news is, I found some perspective in this memoir. Daniel Smith's symptoms are sometimes eerily similar to my own. The bad news is that Smith is something of an extreme case, at one point appr
Jan 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
To be perfectly fair, this book doesn't really deserve 4 stars. It was frequently wandering, most evidence was anecdotal, author (author: Daniel Smith)'s credentials are journalistic rather than medical, and its application is limited at best. But that said, what it does, it does surprisingly well.
Anecdotes are told in an entertaining fashion (the author openly admits the influence of Philip Roth), enabling readers to sympathise with the author, and its outlook is more optimistic than a clinica
I'm usually a fan of self-deprecating humor, but here the author just came across as whiny and self-pitying. Near the end, he recounts how his therapist explained to him that it wasn't necessary to go into an extensive examination of why he's anxious, but to deal with it as a condition. So, all that agony about having sex with an older woman as a teenager we'd endured earlier wasn't necessary? His personal life frankly bored me, so am giving the book two stars for the fact that it's
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e-book? really, any format - I am desperate. 3 40 Jan 05, 2014 10:30AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Combine "Monkey Mind" and Duplicate Authors 2 22 Oct 08, 2012 06:43PM  

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Daniel Smith is the author of "Muses, Madmen, and Prophets" and a contributor to numerous publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, and Slate. ...more

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100 likes · 16 comments
“Freedom is anxiety's petri dish. If routine blunts anxiety, freedom incubates it. Freedom says, "Even if you don't want to make choices, you have to, and you can never be sure you have chosen correctly." Freedom says, "Even not to choose is to choose." Freedom says, "So long as you are aware of your freedom, you are going to experience the discomfort that freedom brings." Freedom says, "You're on your own. Deal with it.” 16 likes
“Guilt at least has a purpose; it tells us we’ve violated some ethical code. Ditto for remorse. Those feelings are educational; they manufacture wisdom. But regret—regret is useless.” 9 likes
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