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.


ISBN13: 9780241647448
Format: Hardback
Number of Pages: 576
Publication Date: 18 Apr 2023
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication City, Country: London, United Kingdom
Dimensions (cm): 24(H) x 16.2(L) x 3.8(W)
Weight (gm): 989

Author Biography

Jonathan Rosen is the author of two novels- Eve's Apple and Joy Comes in the Morning, and two non-fiction books- The Talmud and the Internet and The Life of the Skies. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and numerous anthologies. He lives with his family in New York City.


'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) *
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 *
The darkest of literary triumphs, and the most gripping of unbearable reads. Five stars -- Simon Ings * Telegraph *
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 *
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 *
Far and away the best book I've read this year -- Bari Weiss
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 *
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 *
A beautifully written meditation on society's inability to cope with the problem of mental illness -- Gal Beckerman * Atlantic *
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 *
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 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 *
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
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 -- Sean 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
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
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
The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions

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