Monday Madness: The Center Cannot Hold

Posted 16 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Madness: The Center Cannot HoldThe Center Cannot Hold by Elyn R. Saks
Published by Hyperion on August 12th 2008
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General, Personal Memoirs, Psychology, Psychopathology, Schizophrenia, Social Scientists & Psychologists, Women
Pages: 351

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.

This book is inspiring and fabulous. It’s a 30+ year journey of a woman eventually diagnosed as a schizophrenic who defeated the odds to achieve a graduate degree at Oxford, a J.D. from Yale Law, and eventually a tenured professor-ship (is that a word?) at USC Gould School of Law.

Through it all, she fights her diagnosis and the need for meds. Eventually, she finds peace only in the acceptance of her diagnosis and acceptance in the fact that she needed the meds. Still, she struggles to maintain her inner “self”. 

The Center Cannot Hold is truly an amazing story and a fantastic read.


April @ The Steadfast Reader


  • I seem to really gravitate toward psychology centered non-fiction, but haven’t heard of this one. It sounds great!

    • Me too, have you read any stuff by Kay Redfield Jamison?

  • I’m reading a memoir about schizophrenia right now, Mind Without a Home. This one sounds really good!

    • I’ll have to put that one on my ‘to read’ shelf.