In the insightful narrative tradition of Oliver Sacks, Monkey Mind is an uplifting, smart, and very funny memoir of life with anxiety - America’s most common psychological complaint.
We all think we know what being anxious feels like - it is the instinct that made us run from wolves in the prehistoric age and pushes us to perform in the modern one - but for forty million American adults, anxiety is an insidious condition that defines daily life. Yet no popular memoir has been written about that experience until now. Aaron Beck, the most influential doctor in modern psychotherapy, says that “Monkey Mind does for anxiety what William Styron’s Darkness Visible did for depression.”
In Monkey Mind, Daniel Smith brilliantly articulates what it is like to live with anxiety, defanging the disease with humor, traveling through its demonic layers, evocatively expressing both its painful internal coherence and its absurdities. He also draws on its most storied sufferers to trace anxiety’s intellectual history and its influence on our time. Here, finally, comes relief and recognition to millions of people who have wanted someone to put into words what they and their loved ones feel.
Daniel B. Smith is the author of Muses, Madmen, and Prophets and a contributor to numerous publications, including the American Scholar, Atlantic, New York Times Magazine, and Slate.
“You don’t need a Jewish mother, or a profound sweating problem, to feel Daniel Smith’s pain in Monkey Mind. His memoir treats what must be the essential ailment of our time - anxiety - and it does so with wisdom, honesty, and the kind of belly laughs that can only come from troubles transformed.” (Chad Harbach, New York Times best-selling author of The Art of Fielding)
“I don’t know Daniel Smith, but I do want to give him a hug. His book is so bracingly honest, so hilarious, so sharp, it’s clear there’s one thing he doesn’t have to be anxious about: whether or not he’s a great writer.” (A. J. Jacobs, New York Times best-selling author of The Year of Living Biblically)
“Daniel Smith maps the jagged contours of anxiety with such insight, humor, and compassion that the result is, oddly, calming. There are countless gems in these pages, including a fresh take on the psychopathology of chronic nail biting, an ill-fated ménage à trois - and the funniest perspiration scene since Albert Brooks’ sweaty performance in Broadcast News. Read this book. You have nothing to lose but your heart palpitations, and your Xanax habit.”(Eric Weiner, New York Times bestselling author of The Geography of Bliss
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I have mixed feelings about this book. The first and last several chapters were captivating. In the middle, however, I wondered if I had wasted yet another credit and even considered not finishing. The problem for me was the amount of time dedicated to the author’s anxiety symptoms, which he described to exhaustion. Fortunately, I stuck with it and my tenacity was rewarded in the end.
Therefore, on the whole, I would recommend it.
By the way, “Monkey Mind” was chosen to be discussed at the “Science Friday” book club. You can download the podcast if you miss the live show on NPR.
Note to the author: Daniel, you should have done the narration. The narrator did a fine job, but this was such a personal story that it felt wrong having someone else speak it. Also, while I do not suffer from extreme anxiety, I felt the same way as you about Bdeis orientation week. It was horrible!
Initially promising but ultimately disappointing
I think that there needs to be a more general focus on the symptoms and causes of anxiety, rather than just this narrator's personal experience. Since the triggers for his anxiety are so personal, they don't translate well to the listener.
The ending was a little bit better than the meat of the book in that the author at least begins to pursue some ways to remedy his anxiety, but it's not enough.
The narrator did a good job, but I think was limited by the source material
No. I've had enough of the author and his anxiety problems.
I found this book frustrating because I was really looking forward to reading it, and it started off with such a tremendous bang that I thought it would be great throughout. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I thought that there would be a lot of common ground. Unfortunately, it gets bogged down in endless, repetitive passages in which the narrator talks about his anxiety in general terms and how it caused him problems, but never digs deep enough into the disorder itself. What kinds of warped thinking patterns cause anxiety? Why do some people generate anxious thoughts as their status quo?
It seems like a very self-indulgent and maybe even self-aggrandizing book.
- Grumpy S. Monkey