The Mind and the Moon: My Brother's Story, the Science of Our Brains, and the Search for Our Psyches (Paperback)
“A profound and powerful work of essential reporting." —The New York Times Book Review
An important—and intimate—interrogation of how we treat mental illness and how we understand ourselves
In the early 1960s, JFK declared that science would take us to the moon. He also declared that science would make the “remote reaches of the mind accessible” and cure psychiatric illness with breakthrough medications. We were walking on the moon within the decade. But today, psychiatric cures continue to elude us—as does the mind itself. Why is it that we still don’t understand how the mind works? What is the difference between the mind and the brain? And given all that we still don’t know, how can we make insightful, transformative choices about our psychiatric conditions?
When Daniel Bergner’s younger brother was diagnosed as bipolar and put on a locked ward in the 1980s, psychiatry seemed to have achieved what JFK promised: a revolution of chemical solutions to treat mental illness. Yet as Bergner’s brother was deemed a dire risk for suicide and he and his family were told his disorder would be lifelong, he found himself taking heavy doses of medications with devastating side effects.
Now, in recounting his brother’s journey alongside the gripping, illuminating stories of Caroline, who is beset by the hallucinations of psychosis, and David, who is overtaken by depression, Bergner examines the evolution of how we treat our psyches. He reveals how the pharmaceutical industry has perpetuated our biological view of the mind and our drug-based assumptions about treatment—despite the shocking price paid by many patients and the problematic evidence of drug efficacy. And he takes us into the pioneering labs of today’s preeminent neuroscientists, sharing their remarkably candid reflections and fascinating new theories of treatment.
The Mind and the Moon raises profound questions about how we understand ourselves and the essential human divide between our brains and our minds. This is a book of thought-provoking reframings, delving into the science—and spirit—of our psyches. It is about vulnerability and personal dignity, the terrifying choices confronted by families and patients, and the prospect of alternatives. In The Mind and the Moon, Bergner beautifully explores how to seek a deeper engagement with ourselves and one another—and how to find a better path toward caring for our minds.
About the Author
Daniel Bergner is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the author of five previous books of award-winning nonfiction: the New York Times bestselling Sing for Your Life, What Do Women Want?, The Other Side of Desire, In the Land of Magic Soldiers, and God of the Rodeo. His writing has also appeared in the Atlantic, Granta, Harper’s Magazine, Mother Jones, Talk, and the New York Times Book Review.
“A profound and powerful work of essential reporting…Caroline, one of the individuals Bergner follows, first heard voices when she was in daycare…It is with great skill that Bergner places Caroline's story in context of the history of modern psychiatry. It's hard to do justice to the sweep of the larger story he tells…[Bergner] poses questions about the ethical challenges, complex social issues and other problems of modern biological psychiatry, and he makes a strong case that radical examination and change are urgently required.” — New York Times Book Review
“[Bergner's] heartfelt book threads the stories of three fascinating patients and raises urgent questions about how we view and treat mental illness.” — People magazine
“Exceptionally well written, impressively informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking.” — Midwest Book Review
“[Written] with an unsparing eye and novelist’s flair for storytelling…[Bergner] sheds light on the long-running tension between biology-driven psychiatry and psychoanalysis, and lucidly examines alternative treatment options…It all amounts to a compassionate, genre-spanning narrative that calls for less fixing, and more appreciation of and accommodations for many kinds of minds. This will leave readers with much to ponder." — Publishers Weekly
“A personal and studied reckoning with 'the cost of our belief in biological psychiatry’…An inescapably relevant and resonant journey into the impacts of our limited understanding of the mind." — Kirkus Reviews
“Timely…Bergner, the author of five deeply reported nonfiction books and numerous magazine essays, recounts the history of psychiatry, from Bedlam to Zoloft, via profiles of three individuals: Caroline, David, and Bob (the author's brother)…Heartbreaking.” — City Journal
“Bergner pushes readers to question our society’s demand to pathologize mental illness as the sole path towards destigmatizing it. Rather, he effectively argues for the need to view mental health through varied lenses, involving sociopolitical factors and centering the perspectives of those most impacted by these issues.” — Booklist
“Personal and heartfelt…Bergner’s narrative approach lets him tell individual tales in great detail, and because he is an experienced journalist, he brings them vividly to life…their struggles, their pain, and their triumphs…Above all else, Bergner is urging us to respect each other’s uniqueness.” — Washington Independent Review of Books
“A deeply reported critique of the medication revolution in psychiatry…[a] moving narrative…[a] deep dive into the history of psychiatric treatments…as Bergner shows in his well-crafted narrative, the longstanding belief that there is a pill (or a drug cocktail) for every psychiatric ill is little more than a widely shared delusion, which can sometimes make life even harder for those who turn to psychiatry for relief from their mental anguish.” — Undark
“The Mind and the Moon offers readers a critical, wide-ranging tour through the maze of modern biological psychiatry, interrogating some of its most widely accepted premises. Daniel Bergner’s accounts of the struggles of three very different people, including his own brother, are overflowing with sensitivity, wisdom, heart, and soul. This is a work of hard-won perspective and intense empathy — intimate and heartbreaking, deeply personal and lyrically powerful.”
— Robert Kolker, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Valley Road
“In book after book, Daniel Bergner has dramatized hard subjects—an American prison, a West African war, sexuality, race—with all the compassion and courage of a great writer. But he's outdone himself in The Mind and the Moon, where he explores the most perilous region of all and finds extraordinary suffering, beauty, and common humanity. This is a troubling, exhilarating work of science and high art.”
— George Packer, author of Last Best Hope, Our Man, and The Unwinding
“Daniel Bergner’s The Mind and the Moon asks us to look beyond psychiatric labels to see the human experience obscured by the diagnosis. Combining rigorous research and intimate storytelling, Bergner challenges the dominant belief that mental illness is the result of a ‘broken brain’ that can and must be fixed with medication. This book is both a sorely needed critique of the American mental health care system and a love song for the mad and neurodivergent.” — Grace M. Cho, author of National Book Award finalist Tastes Like War
“The Mind and the Moon is a brilliant, fascinating exploration of the relation between brain and mind, and a provocative rethinking of where psychiatry may have gone badly awry. Bergner’s account of his subjects’ struggles with depression and psychosis is vivid and humane. He raises important philosophical questions about the blurry line between mental health and mental illness, and about our limited understanding of what it means to be human.”
— Scott Stossel, national editor of the Atlantic, and author of My Age of Anxiety