email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
A Mood ApartA Sadly Troubled HistoryActive Treatment of DepressionAdolescent DepressionAdult Bipolar DisordersAgainst DepressionAgents in My BrainAmerican ManiaAmerican MelancholyAn Unquiet MindArtificial HappinessBeating the BluesBefore ProzacBeyond BlueBiological UnhappinessBipolar DisorderBipolar Disorder DemystifiedBipolar Disorder in Childhood and Early AdolescenceBipolar DisordersBipolar ExpeditionsBlaming the BrainBoy InterruptedBritain on the CouchCalm EnergyCase Studies in DepressionChange Your ThinkingChronic DepressionComprehending SuicideConquering Postpartum DepressionConquering the Beast WithinCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamageDepressionDepressionDepression 101Depression and GlobalizationDepression and NarrativeDepression Doesn't Always Have to Be DepressingDepression FalloutDepression in ContextDepression Is a ChoiceDepression SourcebookDepression, Emotion and the SelfDepression, the Mood DiseaseDepression-Free for LifeDetourDiagnostic Issues in Depression and Generalized Anxiety DisorderDown Came the RainDowning Street BluesDysthymia and the Spectrum of Chronic DepressionsEight Stories UpElectroboyElectroshockEssential Psychopharmacology of Depression and Bipolar DisorderExperiences of DepressionFacing BipolarFast GirlFatal AttachmentsGetting Your Life BackGod HeadHandbook of DepressionHandbook of DepressionHello to All ThatHelping Students Overcome Depression and AnxietyHow Everyone Became DepressedHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHurry Down SunshineI am Not Sick I Don't Need Help!Journeys with the Black DogLeaving YouLet Them Eat ProzacLife InterruptedLifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues--Level 1LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues: Level 2Lifting DepressionLifting the WeightLincoln's MelancholyLiving Without Depression and Manic DepressionLong ShotLucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedMadnessMaking Sense of SuicideMalignant SadnessManiaManicManic DepressionManufacturing DepressionMelancholiaMindfulness for Urban Depression: Tools for Relief from Stressful City LivingMindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionMood GenesMoody Minds DistemperedMy DepressionNatural Healing for DepressionNew Hope for Children and Teens with Bipolar DisorderNew Hope For People With Bipolar DisorderNew Hope for People with DepressionNight Falls FastNovember of the SoulOn DepressionOn the Edge of DarknessOne in ThirteenOrdinarily WellOut of the BlueOutsmarting DepressionOvercoming DepressionPerfect ChaosPotatoes Not ProzacProzac and the New AntidepressantsProzac BacklashProzac HighwayProzac NationProzac NationPsychotic DepressionPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuiet Your Mind & Get to SleepRaising a Moody ChildReasons to Stay AliveScattershotSelf-CoachingSightlinesSilencing the Self Across CulturesSilent GriefSongs from the Black ChairSongs Without WordsSpeaking of SadnessSpontaneous HappinessStudent DepressionSubordination and DefeatSuicidal Behavior in Children and AdolescentsSuicideSunbathing in the RainSurvival Strategies for Parenting Children with Bipolar DisorderSurviving Manic DepressionSwing LowSylvia Plath ReadsTalking Back to ProzacTaming Your Inner BratThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Mood DisordersThe Anatomy of MelancholyThe Anti-Depressant Fact BookThe Antidepressant EraThe Antidepressant SolutionThe Antidepressant Survival ProgramThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best AwfulThe Bipolar ChildThe Bipolar Disorder Survival GuideThe Blue Day BookThe Breakthrough Depression SolutionThe Clinical Science of Suicide PreventionThe CorrectionsThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Depressed ChildThe Depression CureThe Depression WorkbookThe Devil WithinThe Emotional RevolutionThe Family SilverThe Feeling Good HandbookThe Forgotten MournersThe Loss of SadnessThe Memory of LightThe Mindful Way through DepressionThe Mood CureThe Myth of Depression as DiseaseThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Nature of MelancholyThe Noonday DemonThe Pits and the PendulumThe Postpartum EffectThe Secret Strength of DepressionThe Van Gogh BluesThe Van Gogh BluesThe Weariness of the SelfThe Years of Silence are PastThirteen Reasons WhyThis Close to HappyTo Walk on EggshellsTreatment for Chronic DepressionUndercurrentsUnderstanding DepressionUnderstanding DepressionUndoing DepressionUnhappy TeenagersUnholy GhostUnstuckViniyoga Therapy for DepressionWhat Goes UpWhat the Birds SeeWhat Works for Bipolar KidsWhen a Parent is DepressedWhen Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen Someone You Love Is DepressedWhen Words Are Not EnoughWhen Your Body Gets the BluesWhere the Roots Reach for WaterWhy Are You So Sad?Why People Die by SuicideWill's ChoiceWriting Through the DarknessYou Are Not AloneZelda

Related Topics
MadnessReview - Madness
A Bipolar Life
by Marya Hornbacher
Houghton Mifflin, 2008
Review by Christian Perring
May 20th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 21)

Marya Hornbacher published Wasted, her chronicle of her messed up childhood and her eating disorder, in 1998. Now, ten years later, she follows it up with Madness, a chronicle of her messed up adult life, her alcoholism and bipolar disorder.  Each chapter is devoted to a specific time in her life, so the book is a collection of episodes with gaps between them.  This heightens a sense of disconnection and fragmentation, which Hornbacher apparently feels herself.  She starts the book dramatically, in a standard memoir ploy, with a dramatic scene from 1994, and then goes back to the start of the story with her childhood in 1978, when she was 4.  The rest of the book goes in fits and starts up to Summer 2007.  Readers wanting to check on her latest progress can read her blog

Her story includes recurrent self-destructive behavior, some self-mutilations that border on suicide-attempts, a failed marriage, many visits with various psychotherapists and psychiatrists, many AA meetings, several relapses, 7 hospitalizations, and a gradual sense of her getting more control over her life and learning how to cope with her illness.  Although Hornbacher's diagnoses have been bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders, these don't neatly separate out in her story, and she doesn't seem like a typical case of any particular disorder, if there is such a thing.  She does do a good job of conveying racing thoughts, and indeed it seems that a good portion of the book was written when she was at least slightly manic.  Most of the book gives the reader some sense of what it is to feel crazy, and to justify one's actions with ridiculous rationalizations.  

Addiction memoirs can be hard to read, because they always have repeated self-deception, self-destruction, and failed pledges to stop.  While Madness is about much more than addiction, it still has that feature -- (listening to the unabridged audiobook makes it easier to get through).  It is also a difficult because of the jumps in the story.  Hornbacher is often surprised to find herself in a new situation, doing something she hadn't expected, undertaking a project or in a relationship she hadn't planned on.  She often finds her own behavior completely surprising, or doesn't know how she ended up in the situation she finds herself.  It must be a difficult experience for her, and readers will share some of that experience in reading the book. 

So Madness is strong on provoking emotions in the reader and possibly on conveying Hornbacher's experience.  It also does a good job at showing how coping with mental illness is a lifelong project that is enormously confusing at first, because it can take doctors and psychiatrists so long to settle on a diagnosis, and for sufferer to work out what treatments work best.  The book is much less strong on making clear which symptoms are associated with which illnesses, and despite the subtitle "A Bipolar Life," it doesn't give a clear sense of the cycling of moods associated with bipolar.  It would not be at all surprising if Hornbacher received other diagnoses later on, or if those reading the book felt that she should have received other diagnoses.  Many, probably most, people with serious mental illness don't fit neatly into the standard diagnostic categories, so it isn't surprising if Hornbacher does not.  It does mean that readers should be careful in thinking that her story is will resemble that of most people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

Link: Author website

© 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.

Comment on this review


Welcome to Metapsychology. We feature over 8200 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!

Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716