“Michael had carried a knife, and slept with a baseball bat, because he thought his parents had been replaced by surgically altered Nazis who had murdered them and wanted to kill him.”
These words were written by Michael’s best friend from childhood, Jonathan Rosen. The remarkable 2023 book The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions is one of the most gripping books I have read in a long time.
Jonathan and Michael grow up together on the same street in New York: two Jewish kids with superhuman book smarts and worldliness. Both end up at Yale University. Both, albeit at different times, decide to write the story of Michael’s life.
Only one succeeds.
The Best Minds begins as an ordinary memoir of two brilliant kids and their ups and downs. But when Michael becomes schizophrenic in his 20s, his life becomes a roller coaster of astonishing proportions.
I don’t want to give away the plot twists of this true story, but I can assure you it’s fascinating, heartful, and terribly sad. Every day while reading, I would yearn to get back to the book, and time away from it—for things like work and social engagements—was torture. Until I got to a point where even thinking about the tragic story was torture. I had to set the book down for a few days because it was starting to feel traumatizing. But I picked it up again and persevered to the bitter end.
This is a mighty book of comprehensive scope; it is a masterpiece. Rosen has done justice to Michael Laudor’s life and to the mental illness known as schizophrenia, with honesty and generosity, and without sugarcoating. The book is detail packed but never gets bogged down. It is deserving of the praise it has gotten in critical reviews.
Have you ever had to pause the reading of a book because it was too upsetting?