Review: The Center Cannot Hold

Title:  The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

Author:  Elyn Saks

Published:  August 14, 2007

# of Pages:  352

ISBN:  978-1401301385

My Rating:  5/5

The Center Cannot Hold is Saks’ memoir of her battle, from the age of about eighteen or so and continuing throughout her life, with schizophrenia.  Saks lived a relatively normal childhood, went to high school and did normal teenage things, and then in college she suddenly found herself going “mad”.  The memoir is her journey through multiple colleges, multiple therapists, multiple medications, and several bouts of madness followed by periods of relative sanity as she fought her diagnosis of schizophrenia while trying to keep her life together.  

I found this book completely fascinating.  Many of you know that I have my undergrad degree in psychology, so the topic of mental illness is something I know more than average about and am very interested in.  Further, I volunteered in college at a crisis hotline for two years, and many of the “regulars” that called in on a daily or weekly basis were individuals with schizophrenia or other similar mental illnesses – so I do have some experience with this subject.  Having said that, I learned a TON from Saks’ story.  The most interesting thing for me was her battle throughout her life to be “sane” without the help of medication – she felt that being medicated made her weak, when in actuality it made her think more clearly, concentrate better, and function at a more “normal” level in the world.  From my experience working with the mentally ill, I know that many of the medications used to treat schizophrenia have awful side effects, but it was very interesting reading about the internal struggle to medicate or not to medicate from someone dealing with schizophrenia every minute of every day.

The Center Cannot Hold would be a great read for those of you unfamiliar with schizophrenia, and for those of you who know little about the disease but are interested in knowing more.  The most striking thing about Saks is how amazingly intelligent, capable, independent, and determined she is.  She is currently a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Southern California – she worked her tail off through bouts of hospitalizations, drug-induced stupors where she couldn’t do a darn thing, and drug-free weeks and months of complete chaos to achieve SO much more than most “sane” people ever do.  More than anything else, her memoir should be education for those who still subscribe to the awful stigma of mental illness – that those who suffer from such an illness cannot function in the world and will inevitably end up jobless, family-less, and homeless.  This stigma is, obviously, not true – but it’s very much still around.  Saks is an inspiration to anyone trying to cope in this world with their own diagnosis of schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, or any number of personality disorders that can be just as terrifying and crippling.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  I loved it partly because of my interest in the subject, but it truly is a compelling and well-written memoir that will keep just about anyone turning pages until late into the night.  

Another review –


16 thoughts on “Review: The Center Cannot Hold”

  1. I hadn’t heard of this book but it sounds great. I’m also a psychology major so this will be an interesting read. 🙂 Great review.

  2. This sounds so interesting Heather! I’m not a psych major, although I took an overview class and enjoy reading about it, so it’s good that a real psych major approves. You know memoirs can sometimes be a bit sketchy. 😉

    1. Yes, Eva, memoirs can definitely be sketchy sometimes. But I am totally a sucker for them and will read just about any. This one was one of the best I’ve read. 🙂

  3. With such an eloquently written review I must read this book. I am always fascinated with memoirs of people who deal with such devastating circumstances/illnesses. Thanks for the heads up on this one.

  4. This sounds very interesting. I have too much personal experience with schizophrenia, and I know I’m going to have to read it. Another fascinating memoir on mental illness is bipolar bare by Carlton Davis. He suffers from bipolar disorder, so details his struggles (including drug use and sexual deviations) with that illness. It may sound grim but it’s ultimately life affirming, and funny too! It’s also informative. Give it a read.

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