the story behind the book | kate tuttle

The gifts of growing up in a crazy family

david wilson for the boston globe

Dr. Edward Hallowell is known for his groundbreaking work on attention deficit disorder, about which he says, “I don’t see it as a disorder; I see it as a trait. And if you manage it right, it becomes an asset.” Hallowell’s books include 1994’s “Driven to Distraction,” along with others on parenting, marriage, and working with people whose minds might work differently than one’s own.

Still, even after a long and public career, writing his new book, a memoir called “Because I Come From a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist,” was a new and daunting challenge. “It’s totally different from any of my other books,” Hallowell said. “I really walked naked down Fifth Avenue!”

The memoir reveals a childhood of both privilege — Hallowell’s grandmother was able to send all her grandchildren to private schools and universities — and what he calls in the book “the WASP triad: alcoholism, mental illness, and politeness.” Growing up on Cape Cod and in Charleston, Hallowell witnessed mental breakdowns, drunken scenes, and abuse.


It wasn’t always easy to reveal his childhood wounds, Hallowell said, but he hoped doing so would help others share their own stories. “I’ve sort of had practice in doing that, because I’ve been very open about having ADD and dyslexia through my whole career,” he said. “And I’ve really been a champion of trying to break down stigma. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I champion my family from the rooftops! Yes, we have crazy people, and they’re wonderfully interesting.”

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

As tough as things were, he added, “I lucked out. I just have so much to be grateful for. I go to church every Sunday. And when I say, ‘Thank you God,’ I really mean it.”

Hallowell will read 7 p.m. Thursday at Belmont Books.

The Boston Globe may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at