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  • Published: 13 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781802063257
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 576
  • RRP: $32.99

The Best Minds

A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions

A novelist's gripping investigation of the forces that led his childhood best friend from academic stardom to the psychiatric hospital where he has lived since killing the woman he loved

When the Rosens moved to New Rochelle, New York in 1973, Jonathan Rosen and Michael Laudor became inseparable. Both children of professors, the boys were best friends and fierce rivals who soon followed each other to Yale University.

Michael blazed through Yale in three years, graduating summa cum laude and landing a top-flight consulting job. Then one day, Jonathan received a devastating call: Michael had suffered a psychotic break and was in the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Michael was still in hospital when he learned he'd been accepted to Yale Law School, and living in a halfway house when he decided, against all odds, to enroll. Still battling delusions, he managed to graduate, and after his triumphant story was featured in The New York Times, sold a memoir for a vast sum. Ron Howard bought film rights, completing the dream for Michael and his tirelessly supportive girlfriend Carrie, and Brad Pitt was set to star. But then Michael, in the grip of psychosis, committed a horrific act that made him a front-page story of an entirely different sort.

The Best Minds is Jonathan Rosen's powerful account of an American tragedy, set in the final decades of the American century, an era that coincided with the emptying out of state mental hospitals. It is a story about the bonds of friendship, the price of delusion and the mystery of identity. Tender, funny, and harrowing by turns, The Best Minds is both a beautifully rendered coming of age story and an indictment of the profound neglect of mental illness in our society.

  • Published: 13 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781802063257
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 576
  • RRP: $32.99

Praise for The Best Minds

Compassionate, shattering, and erudite, The Best Minds is a superb memoir of two charmed boyhoods forever entwined. Jonathan Rosen became an acclaimed author destined to inquire deeply into the riddle of the mind. His brilliant friend, Michael Laudor, who spiraled into a bloody nightmare of psychosis after college, is the reason why. The "best minds" also belonged to literary and legal theorists and to public health authorities who put their utopian visions ahead of the vulnerable to create a system of laws and mental health institutions whose failures continue to reverberate

Sally Satel

With bracing honesty, Jonathan Rosen tackles one of medicine's greatest mysteries, the origins and outcomes of maladies of the mind. In artful prose and with a compassionate voice, he takes us on a journey from childhood to academia to locked institutions. Not always easy to read but well worth it, The Best Minds is a work of nuance and insight that triggers thought and pulls at the heart

Jerome Groopman

In this riveting narrative, Jonathan Rosen guides us through his lifelong friendship with Michael Laudor, a young boy of exceptional promise who becomes a young man exceptionally ill with schizophrenia. This cautionary tale reminds us that schizophrenia is a formidable foe. For even the best minds, the illness can be devastating, subverting its own treatment. And for those who love someone afflicted with schizophrenia, our best instincts for compassion and accommodation can lead to dire consequences. But The Best Minds is not only about genius and madness. It is about how all of us approach what we can't understand and how each of must do better for those who can't fend for themselves

Thomas Insel

This book gets you in its grip from the first pages. It is the opposite of a magic trick: nothing is hidden but the revelations are constantly stunning, a testament to Jonathan Rosen's sheer skill as an author. The Best Minds is a heartbreaking story and an astonishing work of art, its tragedy rendered with unbounded humanity and depth

Stephen J. Dubner

The Best Minds is a carefully crafted and beautifully written tale illustrating the failure of our mental illness treatment system. The irony of the title is that the "best minds" did not understand that paranoid schizophrenia is a brain disease, not a behavioral choice. On any given day 40% of the 9 million Americans with serious psychiatric disorders are receiving no treatment. The Laudor story, with elements of the Ivy League and Hollywood, was high-profile but other tragedies quietly occur in the US every day

E. Fuller Torrey

A moving evocation of childhood friendship that morphs into a devastating evocation of mental illness. Rosen is persistently judicious and precise. The result is a harrowing tour de force

Peter D. Kramer

This is that rare book that deftly works on several levels at once while remaining a compulsive read: as a narrative of a complex friendship; a cautionary tale about the price of intellectual ambition; and a comment upon the unholy alliance of psychoanalytic and literary theory with the grim vicissitudes of reality. Jonathan Rosen writes with searing intelligence and admirable candor about his role in what is ultimately a heartrending story. As unobtrusively researched as it is deeply reflective, informed by a humane and comprehending voice, The Best Minds delivers on its own vaulting ambition. It is nothing short of a contemporary masterpiece

Daphne Merkin

I am not sure when I last read a nonfiction book as satisfying as The Best Minds. It's a memoir, a medical mystery, the story of a close male friendship, a clear-eyed look at the criminal justice system, and, in a weird way, an academic satire, revealing Ivy League foibles that would make you laugh if they didn't make you tear your hair out, painfully. Jonathan Rosen has written a long book that felt too short; I wanted it to keep going and going

Mark Oppenheimer

A work of intimacy, scope and sweeping power, this epic book reads like a classic American novel. Both a heart-rending tragedy and a story of love and companionship, The Best Minds is utterly compelling

Seán Hewitt

I was gripped from the start by Jonathan Rosen's skill as a novelist as he tells the story of two boys, both alike in dignity and gifts, and the tragic impact of severe mental illness on their different life trajectories. The book is a kind of lighthouse, pointing out the dangers ahead if we don't pay attention to those small number of people with severe mental illness, who pose a risk to others, and who need long term care from professionals: not from desperate families and partners. It is a must read for those who are interested in mental health services, and should be required for those in government who have any influence on mental health policy. The Best Minds has its own strange and terrible beauty, and despite the tragedy described therein, it is also a tribute to human love and hope for better things

Gwen Adshead

The tragic story of Rosen's childhood best friend, Michael Laudor, whose brilliant academic career was cut short by a psychotic illness that led him to commit a horrific act of violence

Best Books of 2023, Guardian

A beautifully written meditation on society's inability to cope with the problem of mental illness

Gal Beckerman, Atlantic

The often-cited fine line between madness and genius lies at the heart of this powerfully affecting memoir in which US novelist and non-fiction writer Rosen tells the shattering story of how a diagnosis of schizophrenia led his childhood best friend Michael Laudor from the heights of academic stardom and a major film and publishing deal, to a psychiatric hospital, and eventually to commit a horrific crime. An "American tragedy" but one with universal relevance, it combines a tender and touching story of friendship with a brutal indictment of how we neglect the mentally ill in our society at our peril

Editor's choice, The Bookseller

The darkest of literary triumphs, and the most gripping of unbearable reads. Five stars

Simon Ings, Telegraph

'Extraordinary... A remarkable meditation on friendship, success, madness and violence that refuses to oversimplify ... A magisterial work, as much a sociological study of late 20th-century America as it is a book about madness. Despite weighing in at more than 500 pages, the narrative scarcely drags thanks to Rosen's style, which is easygoing, but spiced with moments of pin-sharp brilliance.'

David Shariatmadari, Guardian (Book of the Day)

An astounding piece of work, at once a portrait of Laudor made of countless fine brush strokes, a tender memoir of adolescence and young adulthood and, above all, a forensic, unflinching exploration of the factors that led to Laudor's public rise and bloody fall

Ben Machell, The Times

Almost every page is filled with poignant observations, subtle ironies and a commentary pregnant with the unbearable weight of future knowledge... This is a rich and deeply thoughtful book about the nature of madness and the way that western society deals with it

Andrew Anthony, Observer

Immensely emotional and unforgettably haunting

Richard J. McNally, Wall Street Journal

Could be the best book of the year... Jonathan Rosen's The Best Minds takes its title from Allen Ginsberg's Howl, and could end up as just as enduring a work of American writing. Expect to see it on "Best Of" lists, and plan to make space for its nearly 600 pages on your shelf. A memoir, a love letter, and a biblical tragedy all at once, it avoids easy answers but clings to difficult questions. A tale told with humility, it charts the path to hell by noting every good intention along the way

New York Sun

An act of tremendous compassion and a literary triumph... A brave and nuanced book

New York Times

Extraordinary... It's just so superbly written. I highly recommend it

Nihal Arthanayake, Radio 5 Live

Far and away the best book I've read this year

Bari Weiss

Rosen is a novelist, and his literary imagination shapes the book like a novel... This artful, reflective and even entertaining book - one of the best of this or any year - is his powerful effort to take responsibility for changing minds, to persuade us of the danger of allowing compassion to obscure truth. The Best Minds manages to honour both

Elaine Showalter, TLS

A poignant account of friendship... The writing is smart and zippy, laying all the emotions bare... an engrossing, passionate and balanced book - both a plea for the humane management of a most misunderstood disease and a haunting account of a friendship that ended in tragedy

Leyla Sanai, Spectator

As a primer to the cultural and political concerns that emerged from the Sixties, it is second to none ... Like all great American texts it is the detail and the flow of ideas that gives it power. This is social and intellectual history of the most powerful sort

Brian Morton, The Tablet

This searching memoir retraces their relationship, meditating on how separate fates intertwine and diverge. Right when Michael’s life seems to be improving, he murders his fiancée. For the author, the questions about his friend deepen, while the answers recede.

Richard J. McNally, WSJ The 10 Best Books of 2023

The story Rosen tells is a damning critique of the utopian thinking that blinded so many admirers of Michael’s mind. It is also a joint bildungsroman, a remarkably honest and poignant account of an intense friendship between two boys coming of age in the 1970s and ’80s, who thrived on sometimes fond, sometimes fraught adolescent competition. The Best Minds combines urgency and subtlety in the way it handles the interrelated issues of mental-health stigma, personal freedom, and forced institutionalization

The Atlantic