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Summary

12 children.

6 of them diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Science's greatest hope in understanding the disease.

One of Barack Obama's Favourite Books of 2020

TIME 100 Must-Read Books Of 2020 Pick

New York Times best seller

Selected as Oprah's Book Club Pick

For fans of Educated, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Three Identical Strangers.

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their 12 children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins - aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony - and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the 10 Galvin boys, one after the other, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?

What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalisation, lobotomy and the schizophrenogenic mother, to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amidst profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction and even eradication of the disease for future generations.

With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love and hope.

 

©2020 Robert Kolker (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"Hidden Valley Road contains everything: scientific intrigue, meticulous reporting, startling revelations and, most of all, a profound sense of humanity. It is that rare book that can be read again and again." (David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon)

"An extraordinary case study and tour de force of reporting." (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind)

"This book tore my heart out. It is a revelation-about the history of mental health treatment, about trauma, foremost about family and a more-than-worthy follow-up to Robert Kolker's brilliant Lost Girls." (Megan Abbott, Edgar Award-winning author of Dare Me and Give Me Your Hand)

What listeners say about Hidden Valley Road

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Touching

I was really moved by this audible book. It sheds a light on the horrors of living with mental illness, especially at a time when it was so misunderstood.

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eye opening

I enjoyed learning about the Galvin's family history and learning so much about mental illness. I loved the fact that there was alot of background information about how they were working on developing medication and other treatments for schizophrenic people. Being the 8th child out of nine I very much related to Lynsey and Margaret being the youngest member of a big family. that feeling of being lost never goes away.

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Poignant, unbelievable and incredibly well written!

This is a true story, that one might find difficult to believe. Working as a mental health professional for over 40 years though, sadly, means that I know much of this to be true. Robert Kolkers writing is incredible, I could not stop listening. It is an amazing story, that begged to be written and the author has really done it justice. Thank you for rekindling my passion for the people and the work!!

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Impressiv and educational

I was sceptic at first and nearly returned it after the first 20 min but I kept going and ended up loving it!

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A subject often avoided . The effect and strain of mental health on a family.

Enjoyed the book. Not my regular type of genre but it was very educative. It really shed more light on how biology can help determine ones destiny. A powerful book in the 21st century.

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A gripping and emotional story! 5 stars!

Wow, wow, wow!! I absolutely flew through this book and could not put it down. It is at once a compelling story of a fascinating family, as well as a brilliantly researched insight into a deeply misunderstood mental health condition. It reads like a gripping detective novel, and I was so sad when it ended! Kolker writes with care and humanity and I felt like I’d really come to know the Galvin family by the end of the book. Fans of Bad Blood, Educated or East West Street will absolutely love this. Highly highly recommended!! Great narration too.

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Absolutely amazing book!

Very good book. Strongly recommended anyone who is curious in science especially psychology and psychiatry.

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A heartbreaking but illuminating story and the family with six family members with schizophrenia

This is the remarkable book that tells a story of Mini and Don Galvin and their 12 children. What is remarkable about their story is that six of these twelve children, all boys, develop schizophrenia. And they developed schizophrenia in quite different and profound ways. And this impact is also felt on the four boys and two girls who did not develop schizophrenia. However, the impact on all the family members must have had such an impact on their own well-being. And not only is this the story of this one family but also an in-depth but very readable look at the studies and change in attitudes towards mental illness, particularly amongst the science around it, which in its early days was often as ignorant as the man on the street might be nowadays - and probably more so. Intelligent men often believed the mothers were the cause of such conditions such as schizophrenia as well as autism is shocking - and it lasted for a long time. Freud himself thought it was just another aspect of the personality that could be cured although Jung showed a much greater awareness. But the story of the scientist who did start to understand that there was a biological element to this, although it could be triggered by nature, is well told. We follow the families life, from the early romance of Mimi and Don to the birth of their 12 children and then what happens throughout their lives - and for some, through to their deaths. It is a remarkable tale.

The book is full of fascinating insights. John Nash, the scientist whose story was told in ‘a beautiful mind’ and played by Russell Crowe in the film, struggled to tell the difference between reality and yet all the patterns in his mathematical equations that were remarkable might have been a result of the faulty pruning that was formed through the strange wiring in his head that resulted in both a gift and a disease. This led to Robert Freedman looking at sensory gating; to look at the idea that muscle movements not only respond but inhibit which is what stops us from falling over, but what if the brain did the same thing and couldn’t inhibit some of its thoughts that could then be harmful. The human mind could synthesize its own reality. And for some this could be overwhelming, like being overwhelmed by sounds or lights or hypersensitive meaning that the lightest touch can result in a feeling like barbed wire upon the skin. I work with children with autism and they can be over or under sensitive to sensory input (some will eat everything and others will be on a restricted diet of a few beige, plain foods - mainly carbohydrates). What if the problem with schizophrenia patients wasn’t that they lacked the ability to respond to so much stimuli but that they lacked the ability NOT to? What if their brains were not overloaded, but lacked inhibition so that they were forced to deal with every brain impulse that was coming their way, every second of every day.

Also, what if schizophrenia was like a symptom in the same way that a fever shows us that there is an underlying illness. Psychotic episodes that we associate with autism, schizophrenia, manic depression, might just a be a way of telling us that the brain is not working properly and has manifested itself as a mental health problem.

I also found the fact of how nicotine can work on certain genes such as the A7 receptor which has a special relationship with nicotine. And many people with mental health problems are often habitual smokers. Nicotine can supercharge the effect of the acetylcholine that this receptor needs to function and smokers like it when this is turbocharged. The nicotine helps to focus their minds but to turn this into medicine would require four medicines a day and pharma companies state that many with mental health problems have difficulty taking one pill a day, so smoking becomes a habit. And many people with mental health problems really do smoke a lot. I found this study fascinating.

However, in the end this book is the story told from a range of different narratives from a single family, with compassion and empathy. I was moved and glad to read this remarkable story. And the story of Lyne DeLisi is remarkable also.

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Well researched and well written but distressing

Although I think this a well written and well researched book which throws a welcome light on mental illness and it’s impact on the whole family, I found this book just too harrowing and gave up half way through.

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Brilliant for A Level Psy

Enjoyed this. Great overview for Schizophrenia and generally classification and diagnosis of mental illness.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Silvia
  • 26-02-22

Absolutely riveting

As a former psychology student, I was absolutely fascinated by this account. One of my favourite aspects of my psychology course was getting to watch three patients suffering from Schizophrenia tell my class their life history. One can only imagine how difficult it must be living with someone with this disorder. This book has clarified gone to great lengths to clarify this.