Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

85%

44 Critic Reviews

A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery.
-Publishers Weekly

Synopsis

An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. “A fascinating look at the disease that…could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life” (People), Brain on Fire is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.
 

About Susannah Cahalan

See more books from this Author
SUSANNAH CAHALAN is a news reporter at the New York Post whose award-winning work has also been featured in The New York Times. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. HEATHER HENDERSON has brought her authentic, resonant voice and a full cast of characters (from a Scots nanny to a Fargo housewife) to hundreds of projects during her 20-year career. She earned her doctorate at the Yale School of Drama, and her credits include production dramaturgy on the world premiere of August Wilson’s Fences. She has published arts features and reviews in newspapers across the U.S. and has won awards for poetry and screenwriting. What seems to impress people most, though, is that she was an extra in Animal House.
 
Published November 13, 2012 by Free Press. 290 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Professional & Technical, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Apr 28 2013
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Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
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Critic reviews for Brain on Fire
All: 44 | Positive: 42 | Negative: 2

Kirkus

Above average
Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews on Jul 17 2012

A valiant attempt to recount a mostly forgotten experience, though the many questions that remain may prove frustrating to some readers.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Michael Greenberg on Dec 21 2012

At its best, Cahalan’s prose carries a sharp, unsparing, tabloid punch in the tradition of Pete Hamill and Jimmy

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Aida Edemariam on Jan 24 2013

Brain on Fire is an account – comprehensively, impressively reported – of how this imperviousness was punctured in the most dramatic possible way.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on Sep 24 2012

A fast-paced and well-researched trek through a medical mystery to a hard-won recovery.

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Blog Critics

Excellent
Reviewed by Nancy Fontaine on Nov 29 2012

Even though it is clear from the outset she recovered, Brain on Fire reads like a frantic medical mystery, leaving the reader needing to know what happens next.

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NPR

Excellent
Reviewed by Michael Schaub on Nov 14 2012

Brain on Fire comes from a place of intense pain and unthinkable isolation, but finds redemption in Cahalan's unflagging, defiant toughness. It's an unexpected gift of a book from one of America's most courageous young journalists.

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NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Laura Schultz on Nov 13 2012

A lack of understanding of the basics does not detract from the power and impact of the underlying story, which is thoroughly engrossing.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on Nov 16 2012

Her gratitude at surviving and journalistic skills combine to create a fascinating read.

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Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by Sarah Barmak on Jan 04 2013

Here, Brain on Fire has the potential to change untold lives. For that reason alone, it’s a much-needed achievement.

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The Washington Post

Above average
Reviewed by Maggie Scarf on Jan 17 2013

Cahalan’s tale is told in straightforward journalistic prose and is admirably well-researched and described.

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The Washington Post

Good
Reviewed by Maggie Scarf on Jan 12 2013

Cahalan’s tale is told in straightforward journalistic prose and is admirably well-researched and described...This story has a happy ending, but take heed: It is a powerfully scary book.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Brandon Robshaw on Sep 07 2013

This reads like a medical whodunnit, as doctors gradually diagnose her condition. The story has a happy end, but it's a scary reminder of how delicately balanced sanity and selfhood are.

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USA Today

Excellent
Reviewed by Lindsay Deutsch on Nov 21 2012

A fast-paced medical mystery that's hard to put down, as if watching a slow-motion car crash in which you know the driver somehow escapes.

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Tampa Bay Times

Good
Reviewed by Sabrina Rocco on Jan 26 2013

Brain on Fire is a courageous account of an unimaginable tragedy, written with grace despite vulnerability.

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Macleans

Excellent
Reviewed by Anne Kingston on Nov 09 2012

Her book is a testament to the complexity and fragility of neural function, and how it shapes who we are. And also to the strengths and failures of the medical system, which still has so much more to learn.

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Seattle PI

Excellent
Reviewed by Nancy Fontaine on Nov 29 2012

I couldn't put it down, and I bet you won't be able to either.

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Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by Sarah Barmak on Jan 05 2013

Here, Brain on Fire has the potential to change untold lives. For that reason alone, it’s a much-needed achievement.

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The New Republic

Excellent
Reviewed by Leslie Jamison on Nov 29 2012

Cahalan has managed to write a book that feels honest and uncomfortable. 

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The New Republic

Good
Reviewed by Leslie Jamison on Nov 29 2012

...Cahalan has managed to write a book that feels honest and uncomfortable. Her prose isn’t particularly stunning, but it’s not the point.

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Book Forum

Above average
Reviewed by John Wilwol on Nov 09 2012

Despite its grave subject, Brain on Fire is never maudlin. Cahalan punctuates the narrative with comic moments that arrive via her college buddies and her colorful colleagues, the "slingers of hyperbole" at the Post.

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Booked Solid

Good
Reviewed by teresa.bocanegra on Jan 19 2013

If you are interested in the brain and medical science, then I recommend this book as it is a fascinating and quick read that almost seems like a suspense and mystery novel.

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Scientific American

Good
Reviewed by Samantha Murphy on Jan 01 2013

A page-turner, Brain on Fire is a true story that reads like fiction. Although the level of medical detail Cahalan provides is limited, she manages to bring this neurological disorder to life.

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Dawn.com

Good
Reviewed by Muna Khan on Apr 21 2013

...it was her editor who suggested she write an article about her experience with her illness which prompted her to begin her research into her ailment. The article was published — and then came Brain on Fire. And we’re all the better for it.

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The Courier-Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by Deborah Yetter on Jan 11 2013

A hellish slide into paranoia and psychosis she documents meticulously in her book “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.”

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Alibi

Good
Reviewed by Suzanne Buck on Aug 08 2013

Brain on Fire is a fascinating and compelling story told in a smart, succinct style by a woman who could have, we are made profoundly aware, just as easily not come back from the edge of the abyss to tell her tale.

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By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library

Excellent
on Nov 20 2012

The writing is clear and concise and readers will glean all kinds of interesting facts about the brain told in laymen’s terms. This is one of the best books I’ve read all year.

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Luxury Reading

Excellent
Reviewed by Sara Drake on Nov 20 2012

This book has no flaws that I could uncover, a true rarity. Ms. Cahalan’s writes clearly and powerfully. The medical descriptions do not detract from the suspense, rather they add to the growing emotional journey.

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Booking Mama

Excellent
Reviewed by Julie P. on Nov 28 2012

BRAIN ON FIRE would make a terrific book club selection. It's non-fiction which would be a plus as far as I'm concerned...BRAIN ON FIRE truly amazed me from the very first paragraph. Highly recommended!

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Jenn's Bookshelves

Good
Reviewed by Jenn on Nov 13 2012

... this is a book that must be read, if not for just the subject matter alone but to raise the awareness of the number of illnesses and disorders that go undiagnosed, unknown. Highly recommended.

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The Book Smugglers

Below average
on Nov 28 2016

...strong early high notes are diluted with a weak finish; this, plus, the overall uncomfortable messaging (regarding mental illness) equals ambivalence

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Sophisticated Dorkiness

Good
Reviewed by Kim on Nov 13 2012

On the whole, Brain on Fire is one of those truly unputdownable memoirs (I know that’s cliche, but it’s totally true). Cahalan’s experience itself is terrifying and exciting to read, but she also does the necessary work to put it in context and help the reader understand...

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Reading on a Rainy Day

Above average
Reviewed by Athira on Jan 10 2013

There was a sense of urgency and purpose in her writing tone that went well with the nature of the experience. And towards the end, when she tries to put together the pieces, the tone slows down to one of shock, loss, yearning and finally acceptance.

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Book Addiction

Excellent
Reviewed by Heather on Mar 29 2013

I would absolutely recommend Brain on Fire for those interested in medical mystery type books, as what happened to Susannah Cahalan can only be described as a medical mystery. Recommended!

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My Shelf Confessions

Excellent
Reviewed by April on Jan 09 2013

I can’t recommend Brain on Fire enough, I’ve been pushing it onto any and everyone I know who reads or is looking for a book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and you’ll come away with an appreciation of just how fragile our lives and especially our health is.

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Caroline Bookbinder

Good
Reviewed by Carin Siegfried on Feb 05 2013

I whipped through this book in just two days. It's easy to read and hard to put down. A memoir with a medical mystery, insanity, and overcoming extreme obstacles is an easy sell to me, and luckily Ms. Cahalan has the writing chops so it reads smoothly...

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Having Said That

Good
on Jan 14 2013

Cahalan does a masterful job of transporting the reader inside her shattered mind for that brief period of her 24 year old life, also briefly describing her recovery, and explaining the illness that took her to the edge of insanity.

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Beth Kephart's Books

Above average
Reviewed by Beth Kephart on Apr 03 2013

It's a generous book—and story—that has already helped others, and it is important for that reason. As literature, as memoir, I worried about the liberal use of dialogue that had been clearly recreated by those whom Susannah interviewed. I wished, as well, for something less strictly documentary and more (in places) transcendent.

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red headed book child

Good
Reviewed by Michelle on Nov 08 2012

I recommend it. I don't want to say it's not your typical "going crazy" story but that's really what it is.

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The Cyberlibrarian Reads

Good
Reviewed by MIRIAM DOWNEY on Nov 15 2012

There are many illness books available. I have read several, most recently Saving Each Other by Victoria Jackson and Ali Guthy about another neurological disease. Brain on Fire is the most journalistic and the most compelling. I recommend it.

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Charlotte's Library

Excellent
on Nov 26 2012

Highly recommended for those like me who are fascinated by medical mysteries with the human element front and center!

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https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpress.com

Excellent
on Dec 04 2016

With sharp reporting drawn from hospital records, scientific research, and interviews with doctors and family, Brain on Fire is a crackling mystery and an unflinching, gripping personal story that marks the debut of an extraordinary writer.

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Dreadful Tales

Good
Reviewed by Colum on Feb 22 2013

The only thing I could do when I finished this book was sit back, relax, be glad that my problems are pretty much all deal-able, and thank Cahalan for bringing this particularly nasty little bastard to the light of day.

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Buried in Print

Good
on Nov 13 2012

Brain on Fire lays that truth out on the page; Susannah Cahalan’s memoir is a reminder that the line between personal wellness and madness can shift suddenly, dramatically, sometimes tragically. And, it’s a really great story.

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http://bookotron.com

Good
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel on Nov 08 2012

This is an intense book that deserves to be experienced in the same manner Cahalan experienced her illness, with as little preparation as possible. 'Brain on Fire' is a reminder that our own brains are fragile, our lives are finite, and our minds are capable, in spite of all this, of great knowledge, great love and great stories.

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Reader Rating for Brain on Fire
87%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 3582 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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Eric Brown 6 Jul 2014

Rated the book as 4 out of 5

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Kelli Garza 27 Feb 2014

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Kelli Garza 26 Oct 2013

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