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Publisher's Summary

Oprah's Book Club pick

Number one New York Times best seller

One of the New York Times Top 10 Books of the Year

One of the Wall Street Journal Top 10 Books of the Year

Named a Best Book of the Year by the New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Time, Slate, Smithsonian, The New York Post, and Amazon

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

Critic Reviews

“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
    5 out of 5 stars
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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

41 people found this helpful

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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!

33 people found this helpful

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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.

30 people found this helpful

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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.

27 people found this helpful

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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.

24 people found this helpful

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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.

15 people found this helpful

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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.

13 people found this helpful

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amazing read

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

12 people found this helpful

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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.

9 people found this helpful

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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