The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, a Memoir of Madness and Recovery, Barbara K. Lipska, release date 3 April, 2018, 208 pages, Penguin

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, a Memoir of Madness and Recovery is one of those quick, interesting reads that you’ll want to talk over with a friend. For most of her adult life, Barbara K. Lipska has worked at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Her main responsibility is maintaining the NIMH’s brain bank, which is exactly what it sounds like: a substantial collection of brains, preserved in ways that leave them useful for research purposes and representing the widest possible spectrum of both age and medical condition. Lipska is also a Schizophrenia researcher, trying to determine whether the disease can be identified by specific brain features and to find ways to treat it. If she were writing about her everyday work world, what she would have to say would be compelling—but she’s writing about something even more fascinating.

Lipska recounts her experience with an aggressive form of malignant melanoma situated in her brain. As the melanoma spreads and as she undergoes different types of treatment, her personality and perceptions undergo immense changes. Neither she nor her family understands at the time what is happening. Then, as her treatment progresses and she returns to her usual self, she and her family begin to realize how aberrant her symptoms were. In fact, although these symptoms had a very different cause, they were much like the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Listening to Lipska as she relates this story—and as she reflects on it and what she can learn about the way schizophrenics experience their world—makes this book remarkable. This is a story of an outstanding woman scientist, of cutting-edge cancer treatments, of the way the family of a cancer patient experience her disease, and of the intensity with which one’s perceptions of the world and those around her can be transformed by forces beyond her control. She is left wondering, as are her readers, about the many components that comprise our identities.

Key to the star ratings:

Five Stars—it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, stop it and get to your nearest independent bookstore stat, so you can get a copy of this title.

Four Stars—this book will carry you through satisfying hours of reading and may keep you up past your bedtime.

Three Stars— you could do worse than reading this book, and you’ll probably enjoy yourself a fair bit of the time.

Two Stars—if it’s a choice between this book and the latest bit of inexplicably popular tripe, you’ll find yourself feeling somewhat less ill-used if you go with this one.

One Star—if you’re stranded on a desert island and it’s the only book you have, it will be worth reading once; after that, focus on alerting potential rescuers.


Star Rating (out of five): ****