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Hidden Valley Road

Inside the Mind of an American Family
Written by: Robert Kolker
Narrated by: Sean Pratt
Length: 13 hrs and 8 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (118 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Oprah's Book Club pick

Number-one New York Times Best Seller

The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with 12 children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand the disease.

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 12 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 10 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, best-selling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.

©2020 Robert Kolker (P)2020 Random House Audio

What the critics say

“A marvel of reportage, research, and style, Hidden Valley Road raises the bar on what is possible in narrative nonfiction. Robert Kolker dives into the exceptional story of one family besieged by humanity’s most mysterious malady. Kolker writes about the Galvin family with elegance and insight while weaving together the decades long quest to understand the genetics of schizophrenia, somehow creating a story that is as haunting and intriguing as a great gothic novel. This book is a triumph, an unforgettable story that you should read right now.” (Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire and The Great Pretender)

Hidden Valley Road contains everything: scientific intrigue, meticulous reporting, startling revelations, and, most of all, a profound sense of humanity. It is that rare book that can be read again and again.” (David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon)

“An extraordinary case study and tour de force of reporting.” (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind)

What listeners say about Hidden Valley Road

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Jen
  • 2020-07-18

NOT The Book That's Advertised!

This is NOT what I expected based on the book's description. I thought that this would be a story of a family, you know- the family PICTURED ON THE BOOK'S COVER, perhaps. While this family IS mentioned throughout the entire book, Robert Kolker's work is primarily an historical overview of mental illness, schizophrenia in particular. I'd wager that 89% of the book deals with the study of the disease over time, with anecdotes of the poor Galvin family interspersed throughout as applicable.

When the author began one of the 1st few chapters comparing current ideas on mental illness to those during the time of PLATO, I began to worry....when, halfway through the book, I STILL did not have a clear picture of (the supposed main characters') NAMES, and was not even sure that the names of all 12 children had even been used yet, I REALLY began to worry that this was not EVER going to turn into the actual in-depth look at the Galvin family that I was expecting to read; as all summations and synopsis had led me to expect a different sort of book entirely.

While this IS a very well narrated work (an especially hard job with all the medical jargon), and it DID keep my attention, as I am a fan of medical non-fiction texts, it was just not the book that I thought I was going to get. As opposed to really 'getting to know' the Galvin family and learning their story, instead I felt that I merely got glimpses of the book that this COULD have been. Of the 10 boys + 2 girls in the Galvin brood, 6 of the boys develop schizophrenia, and some of them turn into desperate cases. Yet, instead of really delving into the ill brother's lives, more emphasis is placed on the mom, and the 2 sisters, ppl who are NOT mentally ill, and very important (the most important?) Galvin family tragedies are lacking in detail to an almost comical degree. At one point, 1 Galvin brother (Which one? Dunno! Hard to remember, as we NEVER REALLY GET TO KNOW THE BROTHERS VERY WELL--THE BROTHERS THIS BOOK IS SUPPOSEDLY ABOUT) is involved in an actual murder/suicide and this does not even warrant a chapter of its own! A few paragraphs is all, with sporadic mention of the incident here and there later on.

In the end, this is a MEDICAL TEXT with the Galvin family's story used primarily as anecdotal evidence to back up various points the author makes on the history of mental illness + the role of genetics in schizophrenia. This is NOT a non-fiction family drama in which readers will connect with the Galvin family....whatever all their names were. ---Jen from Quebec :0)

7 people found this helpful

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What an incredible story!

The story of this family is a testament to the power of resilience despite the secrets, the illness and pain.
" The clearest way that you can show endurance is by sticking with the family." Anne Tyler

1 person found this helpful

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This book truly is a captivating medical mystery and a heartbreaking trauma

This nonfiction book is a must read for all!
Kolker traces the events of an entire family and their struggles within. Their attempts to hide and survive schizophrenia, as it takes hold of six family members. Kolker further winds through the maze of schizophrenia diagnosis, medications and what we have learned over the decades. There is still so much to learn, but the Galvin family along with many medical professionals such as Freedman, DeLisi and Weinberger have dedicated their careers to this research.
“Schizophrenia’s inaccessibility may be the most destructive thing about it - the thing that keeps so many people from connecting to the people with the illness...But the mistake...is to confuse inaccessibility with a loss of self...Emotions are always accompanied by some sort of cognitive process...The cognitive processes may be unconscious, or automatic, or distorted, but it is always present.” We need to continue to learn, connect with and include all of our humanity on our journey throughout life. This book reminds us of the journey we are in together and that humanity is important for all of us, not only those who can afford the treatment.
Thank you Robert Kolker and the Galvin family for this bold and important book!

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I couldn't put it down!

2 stories in one. The Galvin Family story was saddening but fascinating at the same time. Questions raised through out around potential causes of the disease, the age old argument of nature vrs nurture. How each of the 14 family members were affected even though only 6 were officially diagnosed.

The story of schizophrenia throughout the 1900's, the various treatment regimes that changed as new research and technology became available and the very sad fact that despite continued work in this field there is still no definitive answer on what causes it or how best to treat it.

The two intertwined stories made this an exceptional read that had me hooked fro. the start!

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Informative book

I found this book very informative for anyone who has an interest in mental illness. The narrator spoke very clearly and concisely. A little technical in some areas but overall an excellent read/listen. I particularly enjoyed how both the personal and scientific perspectives were presented.

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OUTSTANDING!!!!!

Best book you will EVER read, ..... it has now become one of my personal top 10!!

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Love at first sight

I have read an article about this book and author, at the moment I knew that I had to read it! Amazing book

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  • Kelley Cox
  • 2020-04-19

A story you've never heard before

I was fascinated by the study of Schizophrenia and how it intersected with one family. I didn't appreciate how misunderstood the disease was (and still is...) and how treatment can be as bad as the disease itself. The family at the heart of the story is full of secrets, trauma, and denial while also demonstrating tremendous amounts of love, loyalty, and acceptance. I listened to the whole thing in 2 days!

A warning: Some content is difficult to listen to so be wary if you are triggered by descriptions of violence or serial abuse

25 people found this helpful

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  • abby carmean
  • 2020-04-09

I could not stop listening

An outstanding book and really like nothing I’ve ever read. The story of the family was intriguing but also the clinical info was so informative .
You won’t be disappointed!

22 people found this helpful

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  • T. daniels
  • 2020-04-20

A true split between thought and feeling

6 of 12 Galvin children were diagnosed with Schizophrenia- The Major Mental Illness- and the author documents the true real life tragedy from the position of an observer. There is no real sympathy for the suffering of these poor people both the ill and the healthy. Just a lot of psychobabble that if we conceptualize the disease differently it will magically disappear. Clearly the author has never gone home to a confused schizophrenic young adult after a difficult day at work.
Everything he says is true just from an insulated detached point of view. How ironic for a book on Schizophrenia.

18 people found this helpful

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  • Lulu
  • 2020-04-22

Fascinating and Tragic Tale

I found the premise of this book fascinating and was anxious to read the story. I thought much of it was very well written and I liked how the author flipped between telling the story of this tragic family and an overview of how the 20th century viewed, treated and studied schizophrenia. My issue with the book was the author seemed to believe strongly in "nature" as the cause of this condition, not "nurture". Yet the studies and research he discussed never really proved a strong genetic/hereditary cause and even though he tried hard to make the parents sympathetic, they just weren't. Their parenting may not have caused six of their twelve children to be diagnosed as schizophrenic, but it had to screw all of their kids up. The mother seemed to be almost a perfect fit for the type of mother many researchers considered the root cause of this problem. And she was just as damaging to the kids who didn't end up afflicted with the disease as she was to the ones that did. It felt like he decided on the root cause of this terrible disease before he ever did any research or wrote a single word. Then when the research didn't support his premise, he went on and included the research in the book, perhaps hoping no one would notice the contradiction. I still recommend the book. It was highly readable. But the author's bias showed. Which isn't a bad thing, but since his research didn't support his bias, it made the book kind of awkward to read.

17 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-04-11

Compassion for the human condition

I just finished Hidden Valley Road ... it was amazing. Undoubtedly one of the best books ever. A must read whether you have mental illness in your family or know someone who does OR, even more, if you are simply a compassionate person wanting to understand the human race.

16 people found this helpful

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  • tammy
  • 2020-04-20

Interesting to say the least

I saw Oprah speak about this book and thought I would give it a try. I can't say why a book about a family with 6 of their 12 children having schizophrenia was so interesting but it was! The amount of research it took to write alone made this book a 5 star for me but the way the story was told kept me interested until the last word.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Summertime
  • 2020-04-13

Though provoking

What an incredible story was so well written, and the narrator's voice was perfect. I couldn't stop listening. What a brave family to show the world their pain and love within the private world of a family.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Orezi
  • 2020-04-12

Excellent

I’ve never taken the time to delve into mental illness nor did I ever care. But this book has made me swear of the bias I have, the pain it causes and the fact that there is so much we do not know about the it. This book was well put together and should be ready by everyone.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-04-12

Excellent for lay people and clinicians.

Very well researched and written. A comprehensive history regarding the understanding and treatment of schizophrenia, as well as a realistic and compassionate description of the impact psychotic illnesses have on families. Highly recommend.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Debb
  • 2020-04-11

amazing read

captured my attention throughout the ENTIRE book. a must listen/ read for anyone and everyone!!

8 people found this helpful