by Jennifer Sheller
The latest Maniac book club choice was Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb. This book is a culmination of 12 stories about famous historical figures, but written from the perspective of each person’s mental health. Kalb used story-telling to help readers really understand the intricacies of mental illnesses; including anxiety, OCD, depression, and hoarding. She was able to put a face on mental health – and in many cases a very famous one.
Andy Warhol, as the title infers, suffered from hoarding disorder. He was an obsessive shopper and collector of many things. Pairing his need to continuously buy new things with an inability to part with his belongings his “stuff” quickly began to clutter his living spaces. His apartments in New York became overrun by his clutter and rooms became unusable. During a relocation of his studio he began filling boxes with the clutter. This began the making of his famous “Time Capsules” in which totaled a massive 610 in count and are now revealed at a museum of his name in a spectacular, Andy Warhol fashion. Andy Warhol saw objects in a different way than most people, and although this caused problems in his living spaces, it cultivated his artistic genius that was admired by many.
Abraham Lincoln was a favorite story for the Maniac book club. He was such strong and larger-than-life historical hero to so many, that it was surprising to learn that he suffered from severe depression. He experienced many loses throughout his life, losing many loved ones to disease. In as early as his 20’s he was described by many to be “dripping with melancholy.” He used his humor and his great story-telling ability to fight and mask his depression, but behind that strong man, was a lot of suffering and hardship.
Other favorites of the Maniacs were Marilyn Monroe, who suffered from borderline personality disorder and Princess Diana, who was bulimic. Both women were beautiful, glamourous and envied by millions, yet hidden under the allure lied very troubled women. Monroe suffered extreme difficulties as a child, and spent her adulthood on a constant search for her identity. Princess Diana, admitted that her bulimia started when her fiancé put his hand on her waistline and said, “Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?” She went on to drop her waistline from an already slim 29 inches to an incredible 23.5 inches before her wedding. Despite finding her “prince” and living in royalty, she struggled with a negative self-image for most of her life.
Charles Darwin suffered from severe anxiety that made him physically ill, and it is highly likely that Albert Einstein was autistic. The great author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, had a gambling problem. Betty Ford suffered from alcohol and drug abuse. And Frank Lloyd Wright was a narcissist, whose ideals of entitlement may have helped him become one of the most famous architects of all time.
The stories in the book were not only interesting, but relatable. Readers will at least one time in the book, find themselves thinking, that sounds a little bit like me (if not many times as the maniacs agreed). Kalb does a great job of inspiring the reader with hope and showing that some of the greatest people of our time struggled just like you and I. And despite all our unfavorable traits, genius and greatness can and does exist in all of us.