A Legacy of Madness: Recovering My Family from Generations of Mental Illness

Tom Davis. Hazelden, $14.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-61649-121-5
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Rutgers journalism professor Davis examines the problems that plagued his family for four generations. Peering into the past, he opens this family history with a vivid recreation of the day his mother died, ending her 30-year battle with mental illness: “I had had many of the same impulses as my mother and grandfather, enduring years of eating disorders and obsessive compulsiveness. I wanted to know why we were the way we were, and whether there was some family curse that I was failing to stop.” Probing childhood memories, he recalls his growing awareness that something was wrong with his mother, yet too young to comprehend her illness or the “drunken antics” of his alcoholic grandfather, an administrator at a large psychiatric hospital. At age 10, his suspicions were confirmed when he saw a movie with scenes of Howard Hughes’s obsessive-compulsive behavior: “That’s Mommy! I wanted to say.” Stunned when he learned that his great-great grandmother and her eldest son committed suicide on the same day in 1928 and that five years later his great-grandfather died of self-inflicted gas asphyxiation, he felt he had discovered “some lost treasure” and began the intense research that led to this haunting, soul-searching book. He paged through newspapers and reference books while interviewing more than 60 family members, psychiatrists, friends, and family acquaintances. (Nov. 1)
Reviewed on: 09/12/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
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