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The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

By Elyn R. Saks

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ISBN 10: 1401309445
ISBN 13: 2147483647

Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she?s an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a ?grave? prognosis — and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.

Saks was only eight, and living an otherwise idyllic childhood in sunny 1960s Miami, when her first symptoms appeared in the form of obsessions and night terrors. But it was not until she reached Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar that her first full-blown episode, complete with voices in her head and terrifying suicidal fantasies, forced her into a psychiatric hospital.

Saks would later attend Yale Law School where one night, during her first term, she had a breakdown that left her singing on the roof of the law school library at midnight. She was taken to the emergency room, force-fed antipsychotic medication, and tied hand-and-foot to the cold metal of a hospital bed. She spent the next five months in a psychiatric ward.

So began Saks?s long war with her own internal demons and the equally powerful forces of stigma. Today she is a chaired professor of law who researches and writes about the rights of the mentally ill. She is married to a wonderful man.

In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks discusses frankly and movingly the paranoia, the inability to tell imaginary fears from real ones, and the voices in her head insisting she do terrible things, as well as the many obstacles she overcame to become the woman she is today. It is destined to become a classic in the genre.


“An arresting memoir. . . . It’s a stereotype-shattering look at a tenacious woman whose brain is her best friend and her worst enemy.” –Time

“Saks’ remarkable new book is a voice from a country rarely heard from, the land of psychosis. Like Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen and An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison, The Center Cannot Hold is the beautifully written saga of a young woman grappling with mental illness and ultimately triumphing.” –

“Riveting.” –Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A-)

“Gripping.” –Boston Globe

“[Saks’s] lucidity and intelligence allow her to describe her ordeal with precision and sensitivity . . . and affecting emotion, especially in the passages that describe the healing power of friendship and love.” –Washington Post Book World

“Powerful.” – (August Health Book of the month)

“A vivid personal recollection.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“In this engrossing memoir, Saks, a professor of [law at University of Southern California and of] psychiatry at U.C.-San Diego, demonstrates a novelist’s skill of creating character, dialogue, and suspense . . . Saks’s account will certainly stand out in its field.” –Publishers Weekly starred review

?Schizophrenia is an ominous word — and we too often equate it with a life of misery, isolation, and psychotic torment. I know of no better corrective to this than The Center Cannot Hold, a detailed memoir of how, with medication, sensitive support (and, in Professor Saks?s case, psychoanalysis), a deeply schizophrenic person can achieve a life full of creative work and love and friendships. It is the most lucid and hopeful memoir of living with schizophrenia I have ever read.? –Oliver Sacks, M.D., author of Awakenings and Musicophilia

?In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks describes with precision and passion the tribulations of living with schizophrenia, and conjures in explicit detail a world that has gone unseen for far too long. In narrating her own capacity for success in the face of the illness, she holds out a beacon of hope for those who suffer with psychosis.? –Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon

?An extraordinary, gripping account of Saks?s struggle with mental illness — she refutes fearful prejudices and demonstrates the respect deserved by all people with serious mental illness.? –Robert A. Burt, professor of law, Yale Law School

?The extraordinary story of how an extraordinary human being responded to adversity, not once, but over and over and over again.? –Lissy Jarvik, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA, and distinguished physician emeritus, Department of Veterans Affairs

?A remarkable narrative of a lived life — as profoundly provocative as it is satisfying, it is to be read and savored.? –Leo Rangell, honorary president, International Psychoanalytic Association

?The Center Cannot Hold should be read by anyone interested in mental illness, its treatment, the laws concerning it, extraordinary lives, or simply a good read.? –Robert Michels, M.D., Walsh McDermott University Professor of Medicine, and University Professor of Psychiatry, Cornell University

?This book will inspire everyone who reads it to believe that people with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, can attain the highest levels of professional accomplishment and personal happiness.? –Paul S. Appelbaum, M.D., professor of psychiatry, Columbia University, and past president, American Psychiatric Association

?A courageous, bold, touching, brutally honest, and inspiring account of a lifelong struggle against demons of the mind and the body.? –Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., director, Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, distinguished professor of psychiatry and neurosciences, University of California, San Diego



It?s ten o’clock on a Friday night. I am sitting with my two classmates in the Yale Law School Library. They aren?t too happy about being here; it?s the weekend, after all — there are plenty of other fun things they could be doi

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The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness