I am not usually in the habit of recommending a book when still only halfway through it, but having stayed up all of last night reaching the mid-point of The Best Minds by Jonathan Rosen, I really can’t restrain myself.
Through the lens of an intensely personal, true account of friendship overtaken by the ravages of Schizophrenia, The Best Minds chronicles the magical thinking, cultural confusion, faddish pseudo-science, policy failures, and good intentions gone awry that have marked our society’s mostly failed engagement with serious mental illness. There is hardly a page that doesn’t crackle with meaning, wit, or beauty. Skim through a few reviews of the book — this one in the Times is typical — and you’ll see that my observations are shared pretty much universally.
Still, these virtues and accolades wouldn’t ordinarily be a reason for someone like me to offer a recommendation. Instead, my motivation is more parochial: the book’s author and its principal subject, Michael Laudor, grew up as neighbors on Mereland Road in New Rochelle, and our community, therefore, serves as a geographic and contextual through-line for much of the tale. One after another come the familiar references: streets, teachers, playgrounds, schools, stores. Indeed, The Best Minds is unquestionably the most beautifully written account of growing up in New Rochelle that I have ever encountered (admittedly a crown for which there is not much competition.) If you are Rosen’s rough contemporary — I’m just a few years younger, my brother was a classmate and friend of his sister, and my family and I know the Laudor’s — I can only plead with you to drop immediately whatever your are reading right now, and pick up The Best Minds instead.