Synopses & Reviews
An uplifting and insightful memoir of living with anxiety — the most common psychiatric complaint in the United States — and one man's unswerving quest to overcome it.
• The first of its kind: More than 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety, yet there has never been a memoir about it. Daniel Smith candidly recounts his own hilarious and heart-wrenching story: his first severe episode of anxiety at the age of sixteen; his first job, as a fact-checker at The Atlantic Monthly, which nearly drove him to distraction; and his romantic struggles to keep the love of his life. Through drugs, through psychoanalysis, through self-imposed isolation and cognitive therapy and Zen meditation, he finally learns to make peace with the workings of his restless mind and becomes the husband and father that he wants to be.
• Hope at last: Though Smith is unflinching in his description of anxiety's toll — insomnia, headaches, nausea, constant emotional turmoil — this is far from a sob story. After all, he says, anxiety is first and foremost a disease of absurdity, the human mind's wild imaginings of implausible ways things might go wrong. Through knowing humor and personal anecdotes delivered with a biting insight that calls to mind David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, Monkey Mind empowers readers to "declaw the experience" so they can learn to live with — and laugh at — their anxiety.
• Out in the open: What Darkness Visible did for depression and The Year of Magical Thinking did for grief, Monkey Mind will do for anxiety, giving readers a way to talk about, confront, and ultimately quell their demons.
"Anxiety is no laughing matter, yet afflicted journalist and editor Smith uses humor (such as his use of maxi pads to stem his profuse armpit sweat) as he explains the excess of thought and emotion also known as 'Monkey Mind' in Buddhism. He traces its roots to his psychotherapist mother, a woman whose life is riddled with attacks she actively works to overcome in her 40s. Smith's attacks are exacerbated by the loss of his virginity in a menage a trois with two predatory older women whose advances he's too angst-ridden to rebuff. Smith also reflects on college, where the abundance of freedom and absence of personal space induces frequent tear-choked calls home. After graduation, he embarks on his first romance and lands a fact-checking job at the Atlantic. There, he writes his first article, which results in a libel lawsuit. When his two-year relationship falls apart, he steps out of his stress-addled head long enough to heed the advice of his therapist. Reading the harsh comments posted online about his article and tracking his thoughts and behavior for triggers helps him reroute his psychological circuitry and win his ex back. Smith does a skillful job of dissecting the mechanics of anxiety as well as placing the reader in his fitful shoes. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Monkey Mind does for anxiety what William Styron's Darkness Visible did for depression." Aaron T. Beck, father of cognitive therapy
"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, author of Drop Dead Healthy and The Year of Living Biblically
"Daniel Smith has a written a wise, funny book, a great mix of startling memoir and fascinating medical and literary history, all of it delivered with humor and a true generosity of spirit. I only got anxious in the last part, when I worried the book would end." Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land and The Ask
"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 — chronic anxiety — and it does so with wisdom, honesty, and the kind of belly laughs that can only come from troubles transformed." Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding
"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 psycho-pathology of chronic nail biting, an ill-fated menage a 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, author of The Geography of Bliss
"I read Monkey Mind with admiration for its bravery and clarity. Daniel Smith's anxiety is matched by a wonderful sense of the comic, and it is this which makes Monkey Mind not only a dark, pain-filled book but a hilariously funny one, too. I broke out into explosive laughter again and again." Oliver Sacks, bestselling author of The Mind's Eye and Musicophilia
"A true treasure-trove of insight laced with humor and polished prose." Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"You'll laugh out loud many times during Daniel Smith's Monkey Mind....In the time-honored tradition of leavening pathos with humor, Smith has managed to create a memoir that doesn't entirely let him off the hook for bad behavior...but promotes understanding of the similarly afflicted." O magazine
"For fellow anxiety-sufferers, it's like finding an Anne of Green Gables-style kindred spirit." New York magazine's Vulture.com
"The book is one man's story, but at its core it's about all of us." Booklist
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 40 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 want someone to put what they feel, or what their loved ones feel, into words.
Anxiety once paralyzed Daniel Smith over a roast beef sandwich, convincing him that a choice between ketchup and barbeque sauce was as dire as that between life and death. It has caused him to chew his cuticles until they bled, wear sweat pads in his armpits, and confess his sexual problems to his psychotherapist mother. It has dogged his days, threatened his sanity, and ruined his relationships.
In Monkey Mind, Smith articulates what it is like to live with anxiety, defanging the disease with humor, traveling through its demonic layers, and evocatively expressing its self-destructive absurdities and painful internal coherence. With honesty and wit, he exposes anxiety as a pudgy, weak-willed wizard behind a curtain of dread and tames what has always seemed to him, and to the tens of millions of others who suffer from anxiety, a terrible affliction.
Here, finally, comes relief and recognition to all those who want someone to put what they feel, or what their loved ones feel, into words.
About the Author
Daniel B. Smith is the author of Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity and the associate editor of The American Idea: The Best of The Atlantic Monthly. A former staff editor at the Atlantic, he is a contributor to numerous publications, including the American Scholar, the Atlantic, Granta, n+1, New York, the New York Times magazine, and Slate. He has appeared as a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show, On Point With Tom Ashbrook, and The Colbert Report, among other radio and television outlets.