The Best Minds by Jonathan Rosen
4/18/23; 576 pages
Penguin Publishing Group
The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions by Jonathan Rosen is a very highly recommended account of the life of Michael Laudor, his schizophrenia, and an exploration of the history of how we treat mental illness.
Michael Laudor and Jonathan Rosen became best friends almost immediately after they met in 1973 when the Rosens moved to New Rochelle, New York. Rosen shares stories of their childhood and Michael's brilliant mind and commanding presence even when young. By the time the two both got into Yale, they were no longer as close as they were as children, but still kept in touch. Michael graduated in three years and moved on to a consulting job. After a year the stress became too much and Michael was beginning to struggle with his mental health. He moved home and this is where he was when he had his first psychotic break. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital.
Michael learned he was accepted into Yale Law School while he was
hospitalized. A year and a half later while still experiencing
delusions, he attended Yale Law and graduated with a whole lot of help
from others. Later his story was featured in The New York Times and he sold his memoir. A film on his life was being planned. But then Michael had another psychotic break and stabbed
his girlfriend Carrie to death with a kitchen knife, the act that grabbed headlines and national attention.
The history of the shifting views on
mental illness and treatment is also address, including the 1980s
deinstitutionalization. The history did feel a bit long, but is perhaps
provided as a beneficial account for those who are not familiar with
changing views and treatments over the years. Certainly it influenced
the treatment Michael did or didn't receive, even while he was an
activist for accommodating the mentally ill.
Rosen follows Michael's life, as well as his own, thoughtfully, with
honesty and self reflection. Many details are included to help establish
a complete portrait of a man, family, and community. This well-written
narrative carefully explores friendship, family, and the nature of
mental illness and how we have failed people who need intervention and
help. Honestly, it wasn't a five until I reached the end and everything
was brought to the heartbreaking conclusion.