Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

Published May 13, 2020

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

Book info

  • Title Hidden Valley Road
  • Author Robert Kolker
  • Year 2020
  • Genres Non-Fiction, Science, Mental Health

The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve 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 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?


This was an Oprah’s Book Club pick that I know I wouldn’t have found if she hadn’t recommended it. And it’s probably the first since I started playing along that I didn’t really appreciate. Charting the lives of the large Galvin family – mom, dad, and twelve children, six of whom developed schizophrenia – alongside how they helped in the fight to understand this challenging mental disorder.

Clearly an incredible amount of research went into writing this book, getting first hand accounts, documentation to verify, and racing through the science as well, but I felt like it was trying to fit too much into one book. Somehow, in trying to follow the ups and downs of this family and at the same time track the progress of understanding schizophrenia from a clinical perspective, you don’t really feel satisfied with either approach.

But it’s an important topic and I hadn’t realised the breakthroughs that have happened so far, so I definitely learnt something along the way.

Rating: 3 / 5

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