Length: 400 pages
Audiobook Length: 13 hours and 8 minutes
First Published: 2020
Shortly after World War II, Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American Dream, raising their twelve children in Colorado Springs. Until one after another, six of their ten sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The tale of an American family of utmost importance to proving a genetic component to schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road was one of the top nonfiction books of 2020.
Knowing this was an Oprah book club pick, I was excited to pick up Kolker’s bestseller. Although the story is told well, it’s extremely depressing: a litany of horror stories detailing mental breaks, violence, and sexual abuse, especially of the two younger sisters. The science was interesting but also extremely depressing since it is still so little understood. All in all, Hidden Valley Road was just too traumatic for me to enjoy.
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?
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, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family’s unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.
About Robert Kolker