On The Edge of Insanity

In this commanding debut memoir, Watson conveys what it’s like to live with multiple mental illnesses.
Watson’s comprehensive autobiography recounts her life before and after she was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive and bipolar disorders. The memoir spares no details, and Watson’s raw voice and transparency make it an unflinching, unfiltered look at life with paralyzing illnesses. For example, the author admits to a narcotics addiction and provides a comprehensive look at her excessive bathroom and shower routines, which involve “washing the same arm in the shower ten times” and “brushing my teeth in the same pattern five times.” She ends nearly every chapter with helpful tips for living with OCD, depression and bipolar disorder—an innovative approach that eliminates the distance between her and her readers. She also makes it clear that her mission in writing and publishing this memoir is to help others understand these disorders. As a mix of facts and self-reflection, this memoir is an invaluable medical narrative; to read it is to feel her pain as if it’s one’s own. However, if the book’s brutal candor is its strength, it can also act as its flaw; the tell-all honesty can be helpful, as when the author analyzes her symptoms, but sometimes it can be superfluous and overlong, as when she lists the names of the medications she’s currently taking. A stronger edit might have made for a more sharply focused and coherent book, as it lacks a narrative storytelling structure. That said, its energy and the stream-of-consciousness voice lend it an authenticity that might have been lost if it were more refined.

An admirably sincere, if unpolished, memoir.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1479365302

Page Count: 392

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

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Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.

THE ART OF THINKING CLEARLY

A waggish, cautionary compilation of pitfalls associated with systematic cognitive errors, from novelist Dobelli.

To be human is to err, routinely and with bias. We exercise deviation from logic, writes the author, as much as, and possibly more than, we display optimal reasoning. In an effort to bring awareness to this sorry state of affairs, he has gathered here—in three-page, anecdotally saturated squibs—nearly 100 examples of muddied thinking. Many will ring familiar to readers (Dobelli’s illustrations are not startlingly original, but observant)—e.g., herd instinct and groupthink, hindsight, overconfidence, the lack of an intuitive grasp of probability or statistical reality. Others, if not new, are smartly encapsulated: social loafing, the hourly rate trap, decision fatigue, carrying on with a lost cause (the sunk-cost fallacy). Most of his points stick home: the deformation of professional thinking, of which Mark Twain said, “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails”; multitasking is the illusion of attention with potentially dire results if you are eating a sloppy sandwich while driving on a busy street. In his quest for clarity, Dobelli mostly brings shrewdness, skepticism and wariness to bear, but he can also be opaque—e.g., shaping the details of history “into a consistent story...we speak about ‘understanding,’ but these things cannot be understood in the traditional sense. We simply build the meaning into them afterward.” Well, yes. And if we are to be wary of stories, what are we to make of his many telling anecdotes when he counsels, “Anecdotes are a particularly tricky sort of cherry picking....To rebuff an anecdote is difficult because it is a mini-story, and we know how vulnerable our brains are to those”?

Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-221968-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

HALLUCINATIONS

Acclaimed British neurologist Sacks (Neurology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.; The Mind’s Eye, 2010, etc.) delves into the many different sorts of hallucinations that can be generated by the human mind.

The author assembles a wide range of case studies in hallucinations—seeing, hearing or otherwise perceiving things that aren’t there—and the varying brain quirks and disorders that cause them in patients who are otherwise mentally healthy. In each case, he presents a fascinating condition and then expounds on the neurological causes at work, drawing from his own work as a neurologist, as well as other case studies, letters from patients and even historical records and literature. For example, he tells the story of an elderly blind woman who “saw” strange people and animals in her room, caused by Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a condition in with the parts of the brain responsible for vision draw on memories instead of visual perceptions. In another chapter, Sacks recalls his own experimentation with drugs, describing his auditory hallucinations. He believed he heard his neighbors drop by for breakfast, and he cooked for them, “put their ham and eggs on a tray, walked into the living room—and found it completely empty.” He also tells of hallucinations in people who have undergone prolonged sensory deprivation and in those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, migraines, epilepsy and narcolepsy, among other conditions. Although this collection of disorders feels somewhat formulaic, it’s a formula that has served Sacks well in several previous books (especially his 1985 bestseller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and it’s still effective—largely because Sacks never turns exploitative, instead sketching out each illness with compassion and thoughtful prose.

A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95724-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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