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books and reading

Hidden Valley Road

Title: Hidden Valley Road

Author: Robert Kolker

Genre: Biology, Schizophrenia

My poor husband has had to deal with hearing this phrase a lot over the past few days…”Do you want to know something I learned about schizophrenia?” And whether he wanted to learn it or not, I just proceeded to tell him. Because this book is fascinating. It’s not just about this one family, but it’s also about the history of research into the mental illness. All the things doctors have learned about schizophrenia since the early 1900s, which isn’t as much as you’d expect, honestly. Schizophrenia is really complex, and the treatments don’t work well for everyone.

From Goodreads: 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 twelve 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 ten Galvin boys, one after another, 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 Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid 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. 

The Galvin story is just so awful. The family really had no idea what to do with the sick boys. But their willingness to help researchers was so important into the discoveries made in the 80s and 90s. Because as the boys were growing up in the 60s and 70s, schizophrenia was so misunderstood. We now know that it’s a genetic illness, assumed to be formed in utero. There’s no longer a nature vs nurture debate. It’s nature. 100%. But isolating the gene has been tough. This book was absolutely fascinating, and I learned so much. If the book had simply been about the family, or simply about the research, it wouldn’t have been as interesting. But having both aspects in the book was perfect. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the subject.