Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Paperback | August 6, 2013

bySusannah Cahalan

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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.

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From the Publisher

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...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8.38 × 5.5 × 0.9 inPublished:August 6, 2013Publisher:Simon & SchusterLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1451621388

ISBN - 13:9781451621389

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Customer Reviews of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Incredible! I bought this book only a few days ago at the recommendation of a friend on Facebook. In all honesty, I didn't know what to expect. After the first chapter, I was so entranced by Susannah's journey through her mental nightmare that I managed to finish it in its entirety within 48 hours even despite working a busy schedule. I cannot recommend this enough!
Date published: 2016-12-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Powerful without being overbearing From the very first sentence of the book, I knew I was hooked. The idea of losing yourself has always fascinated me, as awful at that sounds. Still Alice and Flowers for Algernon are two of the most beautiful books I have ever read. This book falls right into the same ballpark as these ones. The way Cahalan tells her story and sucks you in is really hard to describe. Liking to think of myself as a writer, I admire those who are able to tell their stories and make them their own yet find a way to connect them with the reader. And this author does just that. I also admire Cahalan’s courage to return to this difficult time of her life and turn it into a fruit of her passion, journalism. This takes courage. I was blown away by her dedication to the book. The amount of research that went into it is pretty incredible. Interviewing your relatives, hunting down people you’ve only met once or twice, attempting to understand things only a brain surgeon could understand and succeeding enough to write about it is difficult. From a past amateur journalist and self-proclaimed writer that someday wants to write a book but throws away those ideas because she doesn’t think anyone will read it and doesn’t think she’s “good enough” to compete with the likes of writers like Cahalan, I understand. I could not imagine anything of this caliber happening to me, but I can certainly understand how frustrating and heartbreaking it would be to have your world falling beneath you as you are helpless to stop it. But maybe that’s just me, as I have mentioned, these types of stories fascinate me. There were multiple times where I had to put this book down, for two separate reasons. One was, I will admit, because my head hurt from reading highly scientific and medical parts. Thinking about how your brain functions CAN actually make your brain hurt from trying to understand it all. So that is one downside of the book. It’s scientific and can be confusing. BUT Cahalan does have a unique talent to write about things that the average person wouldn’t understand without doing some research and she writes it in a way that you can understand her. I am also blown away by writers that can write about things that they otherwise wouldn’t know anything about. That is the art of storytelling. I also had to put this book down simply because it made me too emotional. This woman had dreams and goals and ambition, and beyond that, undeniable talent. And the idea of losing all of that to a situation that you can’t control or at times aren’t even aware is happening is terrifying. But when I have to put a book down because of “too many feels,” that means it’s a good book. If any part of this review interests you, take a chance on this one.
Date published: 2016-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brain on Fire A wonderful biography about a woman going through a medical mystery.
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great read! I love memoirs and have a personal interest in psychology as well but this book was actually a random purchase and I didn't have high expectations but it is well written, captivating and insightful. It's educational and thrilling, I couldn't put it down. You will share her journey through the book and learn a lot along the way too. You may find the ending a little slow or boring if you're not interested in the more scientific/biological explanations but I thought it was very interesting!
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A brave memoir It takes a lot to write a memoir about when you lost yourself to illness. Ms. Cahalan does an excellent job capturing her audience and bringing us on her journey. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in a medical mystery.
Date published: 2016-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Totally enthralling This book hooked me in and I couldn't put it down. Beautifully written and very educational. I Highly recommend this read!
Date published: 2016-12-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Something lacked... From the first time I saw this book and read a quick exerpt, I knew it was something I needed to read. I don't read a lot of memoirs or biographies and because of this, I didn't want to spend the $20+ for the book. I kept waiting and looking for it at garage sales or thrift stores and one lucky day I found it! It was time for me to finally sink into Brain on Fire - My Month of Madness. To be honest, I was a little disappointed after I read it. It's a memoir as I mentioned, so it's hard to say it was a bad book, because it wasn't but it just wasn't as exciting as I had expected it to be. Let's clear this up a little. When I read the little chapter, I was intrigued because Susannah had no idea who she was or where she was. But there's a lot more behind this than I had thought. Without giving away too much of the book, she had her family and her boyfriend there with her at all times helping her along the way. In my mind, I pictured this poor woman waking up alone, all by herself with no one. I think that's what I wanted. More mystery with who she was overall and I wanted to come along on a journey with her as she finds herself. We do get the mystery while figuring out what caused Susannah to have a "month of madness" and it's an interesting read, and we definitely follow along as she finds herself and rediscovers her life before this all happens. #plumreview
Date published: 2016-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book This was an amazing book! As a psychologist I was very excited to see how her condition unfold as the various doctors on her team tried to crack the case. Worth the read. #plumreview
Date published: 2016-11-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Brave, Honest Memoir Explore's one individual's experience with mental illness and the system. Was slow and hard to follow at some points.
Date published: 2016-11-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great read This was an amazing book about a fascinating story that I would definitely recommend to anyone. My only dislike of this novel was that towards the end it became a little boring with too much emphasis on the cellular biology and underlying science of her disease.
Date published: 2016-11-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from pretty good i started off not being able to put this book down but near the ending it got a little boring.
Date published: 2016-11-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting, but something lacked for me I really enjoyed reading the overall story, but I wasn't a fan of the writers voice and the angle that she was telling the story in. I found like she could have used her voice to shed light on the stigma surrounding mental illness in addition to her disease as well as other people who suffer from it. I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have if it was written differently.
Date published: 2016-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVE! This book instantly got me hooked. I could not put it down. It is raw, terrifying but hopeful. Very insightful. Gives you perspective on mental health.
Date published: 2016-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome I read this book all in one sitting it was so good. Unlike anything I've ever read before. Not too many science/health terms it was easy to follow.
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Book! I really enjoyed reading this book and it was really hard to put down! I couldn't believe that it was true and I can't believe she went through all of it!
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! At times seems too crazy to be true. So good! Not the best book for a hypochondriac like me. Because her illness is not revealed off bat, it's a mystery to the reader as well and we experience the confusion and frustration along with her. You will learn a lot of new medical terms and develop a new appreciation for those with mental illness.
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from good book this was an interesting book. i found i learnt a few things while i was reading it as well.
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great book what a great book! was very interesting and i found i learnt a ton from the book as well
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved This was a well-written page-turner. A glimpse into madness...
Date published: 2016-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Book I was on a road trip through the U.S. when I first saw this book at Target. I read the back and fell in love with in right away. I love psychology and reading about health issues, and memoirs are right up my alley, so I knew this was a must read for me. The author is incredibly detailed in her writing, and gives as much information as possible. I read this book in a day because it kept me on my toes and I just HAD to know what was going on. I don't want to give too much away, but the diagnosis is very interesting as well. My new favorite book.
Date published: 2016-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favourite Book! I read this book over a year ago, and can't stop thinking about it. I recommend it to just about anyone and everyone. What a fantastic read!
Date published: 2016-08-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loved it! When your brain is against you and you cannot do anything... True story, described perfeclty by someone who lived the unthinkable.
Date published: 2016-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this book! Susannah Cahalan does an amazing job integrating the medical and emotional aspects of her journey and provides a very personal perspective that I was able to connect to on a human level. A very intriguing story about how life can change in an instant; first book I've read in a while that I wasn't able to put down!
Date published: 2016-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this book! I read this book a few years ago in higschool for a book report. I would definitely recommend this to anyone more so older teens though like the age of 15 and up.
Date published: 2016-01-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from fantastic! what a great book!
Date published: 2015-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Loved every second of this book. It was exhilarating and informative at the same time. Kept me interested until I fell asleep at night.
Date published: 2015-07-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enlightening! Excellent read!
Date published: 2015-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this book!! I bought the book a couple months ago and really enjoyed reading it.
Date published: 2015-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brain on Fire. My Month of Madness. Fantastic book. Loved it. Takes you on a fascinating ride through not only this illness but through our health care system. The testing and diagnostic techniques alone will keep you reading. The best part is it's all true and written by the person who experienced it.
Date published: 2015-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book has saved lives! The author takes you on her journey where most of us fear to go, in a way that keeps you turning the page even when you struggle to relate to her reality as she goes deeper into her illness. At times when the human struggle makes you uncomfortable, you might think, well this would never happen to me so why would I go on reading. But the author compels you to read on and find out why it is so important for all of us to learn about this illness.
Date published: 2015-01-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A good, quick read Susannah Cahalan, a young reporter for the New York Post, goes mad because of a rare virus. She tells her gripping and scary tale after regaining her equilibrium. I didn’t like that this memoir attempts to be too neatly packaged, with a looking-back-on-that-time-in-my-life structure. Cahalan is crazy for much longer than a month, and much of her story she had to piece together from others. She only makes mention of that about three quarters of the way through the memoir. I think it would have been better to explain the difficulty of recounting (and credibility) much sooner. Still, her story is captivating.
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Weirdly Self-Indulgent For quite a bit of the book, I genuinely thought the author was faking her illness. When she mentions the Southern expression--the 'blue devils', I think it was--which captures the notion of a young woman falling into self-perpetuating tantrums a la "The Crucible", I thought at first she'd given the game away. However, the presence of Dr. Nahjar and the critical response both to his diagnosis and to her NY Post article convinced me differently. Still, her refusal to follow through with group sessions and her fixation on how she looked after it all and how others looked at her (including the odd recounting of the lawn man ogling her) feels weirdly self-indulgent and, without much effort, I could be brought back to the idea that a lot of her condition was acted out, escaping, as she was, job failure and a hoarder lifestyle at the time it all began.
Date published: 2014-05-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Emotional Rollercoaster I read this book for a book club I belong to. What a story. A true story of a woman's fight (the author) with a little known diesease called anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Look it up for a full explanation of what it is. We went through her syptoms as they developed. We went through fears and worries as she stayed in hospital. We went through her recovery and return to society. The author did a great job with controlling our emotions. The story took me down with her descent into madness as the disease took control of her life. Then she lifted us up with her miraculous diagnosis and recovery. I liked how the author did not feel sorry for herself. She did wonder about why it happened to her and why she was so lucky to survive it. The author did a good job of revealing her character in the book. This was critical to the story as the disease altered her character while it was developing. It could have altered her forever. The book was easy to read and kept me engrossed. The chapters were short so I could read little bits of it here and there. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
Date published: 2014-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brain on fire Incredible information . We have so far to go in the medical field especially with mental health and the brain. So complex. So many who are uncomfortable around it and the unknown.
Date published: 2014-04-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting This book was a terrifying account of something that could happen to anyone. I never thought about how similar neurological and physchological issues can be and how easily they can be misdiagnosed. Susannah Cahalan was amazingly able to piece together most of a puzzle that others would have probably considered a month that they would have never gotten back. I felt as though every step and discovery she was making, I was right there in her mind making them with her. Worth the read!
Date published: 2014-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Brain on Fire Very interesting and well-written. Quick read.
Date published: 2014-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Brain on Fire Very interesting read. At times goes a bit too much in depth about the science of it all.. Would definitely recommend
Date published: 2014-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brain on Fire Captivating, shocking! Truly touched by this book. Sucked me right in from the moment I started reading and as soon as I finished the book I went and followed her interviews on Youtube about her condition and what she's been up to since the book was released... amazing story, a must read!
Date published: 2014-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Read This book was an interesting and informative read. It kept me engaged reading of the authors journey and the medical and scientific aspects were clearly presented.
Date published: 2014-01-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Read The beginning is interesting but it bogs down in the middle. It is written like an overly long news story. I lost interest toward the end.
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really good Harsd to beleive this wqas a true story, good book
Date published: 2014-01-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Month of madness It was alright
Date published: 2013-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Loved this book, the author did a lot of research on her disease. The book was very well written
Date published: 2013-12-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative The story line so far makes me think of the TV show" House'.
Date published: 2013-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brain on Fire Excellent and unnerving for me. This book got deep into my soul and I know it will be with me in my thoughts for a long, long time. An incredible story.
Date published: 2013-08-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Bored ...Brain My curiosity kept me reading this book but I never truly got into the story, in the end it was just ok.
Date published: 2013-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting read Really enjoyed this story. Amazing!
Date published: 2013-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enlightening Had no idea this could happen, and does give possible answers to seemingly inexplicable behaviours that plague some people.
Date published: 2013-04-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Could've been better Not bad but not the greatest. Beginning was a little slow
Date published: 2013-03-04

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Brain on Fire PREFACE At first, there’s just darkness and silence. “Are my eyes open? Hello?” I can’t tell if I’m moving my mouth or if there’s even anyone to ask. It’s too dark to see. I blink once, twice, three times. There is a dull foreboding in the pit of my stomach. That, I recognize. My thoughts translate only slowly into language, as if emerging from a pot of molasses. Word by word the questions come: Where am I? Why does my scalp itch? Where is everyone? Then the world around me comes gradually into view, beginning as a pinhole, its diameter steadily expanding. Objects emerge from the murk and sharpen into focus. After a moment I recognize them: TV, curtain, bed. I know immediately that I need to get out of here. I lurch forward, but something snaps against me. My fingers find a thick mesh vest at my waist holding me to the bed like a—what’s the word?—straitjacket. The vest connects to two cold metal side rails. I wrap my hands around the rails and pull up, but again the straps dig into my chest, yielding only a few inches. There’s an unopened window to my right that looks onto a street. Cars, yellow cars. Taxis. I am in New York. Home. Before the relief finishes washing over me, though, I see her. The purple lady. She is staring at me. “Help!” I shout. Her expression never changes, as if I hadn’t said a thing. I shove myself against the straps again. “Don’t you go doing that,” she croons in a familiar Jamaican accent. “Sybil?” But it couldn’t be. Sybil was my childhood babysitter. I haven’t seen her since I was a child. Why would she choose today to reenter my life? “Sybil? Where am I?” “The hospital. You better calm down.” It’s not Sybil. “It hurts.” The purple lady moves closer, her breasts brushing against my face as she bends across me to unhook the restraints, starting on the right and moving to the left. With my arms free, I instinctually raise my right hand to scratch my head. But instead of hair and scalp, I find a cotton hat. I rip it off, suddenly angry, and raise both hands to inspect my head further. I feel rows and rows of plastic wires. I pluck one out—which makes my scalp sting—and lower it to eye level; it’s pink. On my wrist is an orange plastic band. I squint, unable to focus on the words, but after a few seconds, the block letters sharpen: FLIGHT RISK.

Editorial Reviews

“Compelling…a New York Post reporter recounts her medical nightmare.”