Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker


cover175758-mediumThe heartrending story of a mid-century 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.

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.

Hidden Valley Road is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a very long time. The story of the Galvin family is heartbreaking and horrifying at the same time. The schizophrenia that afflicted 6 of the 12 Galvin children caused so much suffering and trauma to one family that it is remarkable any of them survived.

Kolker takes the clinical history of the Galvins and weaves it into a cohesive story that spans decades and concludes with a sliver of hope for the next generations of the family. It can be difficult to take a clinical history, especially one involving mental illness, and convert it into a readable, suspenseful story that conveys the humanity of the subjects in a non-exploitative way. Kolker does a fine job of storytelling here, on par with Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and, more recently, Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Absolutely one of the best of the year.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Published By: Doubleday Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy