Claudia Kalb: Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder

Cover: Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder

Cover: Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder


Claudia Kalb
National Geographic Books, February 2, 2016, $24.00
ISBN-10: 1426214669
ISBN-13: 9781426214660

Kalb reports:

Did George Gershwin have ADHD? Was Einstein on the autism spectrum? What made Darwin retch, and when did Warhol’s collecting morph into hoarding? Where’s the line between “normal” and “abnormal” behavior anyway?

These are the questions that fueled this book: a look at mental health through the lives of 12 extraordinary individuals. Almost all were enormously accomplished in business, politics, science, the arts — but every one of them exhibited behaviors associated with a mental health condition today.

Claudia Kalb

Claudia Kalb

I’ve always been interested in what propels people’s moods and actions, and I was lucky enough to cover many mental health issues during my years as a Newsweek writer. But magazine stories can only go so deep. It was my good fortune that Hilary Black, my editor at National Geographic Books, was seeking a book about contemporary mental health conditions as seen through lives of the past.

For my proposal, I identified two categories of historical figures: those who’d gone public with their own challenges, and those who’d been retrospectively diagnosed by medical experts. The final list evolved over months of research and reporting. I ultimately chose what I deemed to be a compelling lineup of individuals and conditions — from borderline personality disorder (Marilyn Monroe) to gambling disorder (Dostoevsky) — and a span of history that would allow me to explore changes in how mental health has been viewed and treated.

Critical questions arose from the start: How do you “diagnose” a dead person? How reliable are diagnostic criteria? What do you do with conflicting biographical information, or incompatible medical hypotheses? It has been suggested that Darwin, for example, had everything from barnacle preservation allergy to social anxiety.

I mined biographies, autobiographies, letters, journals, and published medical reports for information. I interviewed mental health experts. And, in the final analysis, I made sure to let inconclusive findings remain uncertain. My goal was not to assign labels, but to better understand what drove these 12 people.

My greatest hope is that illuminating their troubles and triumphs will help eradicate some of the stigma around mental illness.

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February 10, 2016

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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