The Best Minds by Jonathan Rosen

A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions

The blurb of this astounding book gives away the haunting tragedy at its core. This is the story of Michael Laudor, author Jonathan Rosen’s closest childhood friend, who stunned the nation when he fell from the height of brilliance and killed the woman he loved. Her name was Caroline Costello, and she was 37 years old. 

The story starts in 1973 on Mereland Road in New Rochelle. “There were good schools, green lawns…and Metro North got you to Manhattan—the rock around which all life revolved—in thirty-three minutes. But the real reason we moved to New Rochelle was so that I could meet Michael,” writes Rosen.

The two young boys bonded over their love of literature and films, with both showing early signs of bright futures, although it was Michael who was always a step ahead of Jonathan, and wasn’t afraid to show it. “Even then, he seemed like the ambassador of his own country,” Rosen remembers.

From New Rochelle to New Haven, they were both accepted into Yale University, with Michael graduating summa cum laude in three years. After graduation, Michael was hired by the Boston-based management consulting firm Bain & Company, but quit within a year when he sensed the “Bainies were spying on him.”

Back on Mereland Road and working on a novel, he started having paranoid delusions that the Nazis were stalking him, and he was bringing a baseball bat to bed at night. This concerned Jane Ferber, a psychiatrist who had watched Michael grow up, and her close circle of friends, other mental health professionals, who referred to themselves as “the Network.” 

It wasn’t long until Michael deteriorated further, which led him to believe his parents were Nazis, causing him to patrol the house with a kitchen knife. His mother Ruth was unable to persuade him otherwise, and she’d locked herself in the bedroom, and called the police. 

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Michael spent eight months in the locked ward at Columbia Presbyterian. “He’d been fighting a secret war for years,” writes Rosen. 

Before his hospitalization, Michael had applied to the top seven law schools in the country and was accepted by every institution. He rejected all but Yale, which he had his brother defer for a year. Upon his release, rather than take the suggestion of his mental health team and ease slowly into community life, he felt ready to take on academic law. 

He then met Caroline ‘Carrie’ Costello, although the two had actually met years earlier at Silliman through her roommate. A new relationship was blooming, but professionally, Michael was at a loss, as law school was over and he had no job offers. He had also lost his father. 

Then, in 1995, Lisa Foderaro of the New York Times ran an interview with Michael with the headline, “A Voyage to Bedlam and Part Way Back.” In the piece, Michael opened up about his schizophrenia and his work as a mental health advocate. “Hollywood and the publishing world came calling,” remembers Rosen. He was offered a seven-figure deal to turn his life into a movie, directed by Ron Howard, meanwhile a bidding war was commencing in the literature world for his memoir, The Laws of Madness

What happens from here to the murder of a pregnant Carrie Costello, one gets the sense that so many are caught up and distracted by the great achievements of Michael Laudor, that they have forgotten his basic needs as an individual with schizophrenia. There are those who have expressed concern, but not enough to be able to intervene, which shows just one of the ways our mental health system is broken.

While the story of Laudor is unfolding throughout this narrative, from childhood to brilliance, and to the forensic psychiatric hospital where he lives today, Rosen covers a vast amount of ground explaining the mental health policies that have long existed in our society, the stigma associated with illness, and how we fail to acknowledge, protect, and understand those most vulnerable. 

This is not only a story about Michael Laudor, but one that includes the voices of other individuals living with mental illness, some who have fallen through the cracks of our broken systems, and those who are managing their conditions and showing the possibilities of living a normal life.

For readers of The Quiet Room by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett, The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks, and Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv.

Photo by Tali Rosen

Jonathan Rosen is the author of two novels: Eve’s Apple and Joy Comes in the Morning, and two non-fiction books: The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds and The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature. His essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous anthologies. He lives with his family in New York City.

The Best Minds is available for purchase in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook format. Check,, or Penguin Random House Canada for a distributor near you. 

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