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  • Writer's pictureJim Alkon

Book Review: Still Crazy After all These Years

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The following book review first appeared on BookTrib, for which I am Editorial Director.

One day at the age of 10, as a student at a New England boarding school, young Ned Hallowell was told to report to the school psychologist at the request of his mother. Getting right to the point, Dr. Merritt asked, “Well, how about if you tell me about your life so far?”

“I remember starting to talk, and out of the blue the floodgates opened,” recalls Hallowell in his new memoir, Because I Come From a Crazy Family (Bloomsbury). “I talked and talked and cried and cried… Dr. Merritt sat there, not saying a word.” What Dr. Merritt said next, according to Hallowell, “makes me believe he was either the best or the worst psychologist on the planet. He said, ‘You can go now. We do not need to meet again.’ "

That was the first taste of therapy for Dr. Edward Hallowell, today a leading child and adult psychiatrist and one of the foremost authorities on ADHD, who oddly enough has built his brand around the words “distraction” and “crazy.” His bestselling book, Driven to Distraction, was written to help people cope in our crazy-busy, 24/7 modern world. It begot many other self-help works including Crazy-Busy, once again on the theme of people being overbooked, overstretched, about to snap and trying to manage.

Fast-forward to Hallowell’s latest gem, Because I Come From a Crazy Family, in which the author does some self-psychoanalysis and once again opens the floodgates to deftly recall how his upbringing led him to a career dedicated to “decoding human nature… [and] doing battle with the demons of the mind, including my own.”

In the opening pages, he recalls how his mother proclaimed when he was a baby that she knew he’d make the family happy. “So those were my marching orders: make people happy,” he writes.

Hallowell is a thorough and convincing storyteller, recounting all the details from a childhood cluttered with what he calls the “WASP triad” of alcoholism, mental illness and politeness. Along the way readers are introduced to a bipolar father, alcoholic mother, abusive stepfather and Hallowell’s own bouts with ADHD and learning challenges.

The gift of this work is that Hallowell is able to paint a Mark Twain-like picture of a childhood from Chatham, MA, to Charleston, SC, with all the typical growing-up adventures you’d expect from any coming of age tale. Sure, it has its warts, which help explain his life’s work sitting on the flip side of the doctor-patient table from his Dr. Merritt experience and letting others confront their emotions. The fact that his childhood was normal in many ways and crazy in others allows the reader (and Hallowell’s millions of devoted followers) to relate, and conclude that they are not in their struggles alone.

“People in my family were wonderfully interesting people,” Hallowell says in an early episode of his podcast, fittingly called Distraction. “They’re very loving. There was no cruelty, but there was a fair amount of craziness and drinking. “People ask me, “Why did you become a psychiatrist?” The answer is because I come from a crazy family. I found the workings of the mind very interesting, but I didn’t want to be a bench researcher – I wanted to be an explorer.”

Using his own ADHD as a centerpiece, Dr. Hallowell tries to position others’ similar struggles as positives. “These folks have a Ferrari engine for a brain with bicycle brakes. If you manage it properly, you can take it to the very pinnacle of success.”

For a professional psychiatrist who excels in prompting someone else to do most of the talking, Dr. Hallowell is the auteur for this very special narrative. Instead of hearing others delve into their past, this is all Ned all the time. It’s poignant storytelling with a purpose, and a treasure for those either new to or familiar with his work. Because I Come From a Crazy Family is a memoir worthy of consideration for your short list — that is, of course, if you can find a way to toss aside your distractions and lose yourself in one man’s very relevant vantage point in this crazy-busy world.

Because I Come From A Crazy Family is now available for purchase.

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