Book Review: The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes

Posted October 17, 2011 by Heather in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review:  The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel KeyesThe Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes
Published by Bantam on January 1994
Genres: Nonfiction, Biography
Format: Paperback
Pages: 448
Source: my shelves

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Dissociative identity disorder (or DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder) is often brought on as a result of severe abuse–physical, sexual, and/or emotional–during early childhood. The child’s brain will form one or more separate personalities that will come forward during the abuse and then recede after the abuse has ended, thereby protecting the child from the memories and feelings of what has happened.

This is what Billy Milligan claims happened to him. Unfortunately, this kind of abuse and psychological disorder is fairly common, although we don’t hear about every case. But Milligan’s case gained him national attention in the 1970s and 80s. From the back cover:

Billy Milligan can be anyone he wants to be… except himself.

Out of control of his own actions, Billy Milligan was a man tormented by twenty-four distinct personalities battling for supremacy over his body–a battle that culminated when he awoke in jail, arrested for the kidnap and rape of three women. In a landmark trial, Billy was acquitted of his crimes by reason of insanity caused by multiple personality–the first such court decision in history–bringing to public light the most remarkable and harrowing case of multiple personality ever recorded.

Twenty-four people live inside Billy Milligan.

Philip, a petty criminal; Kevin, who dealt drugs and masterminded a drugstore robbery; April, whose only ambition was to kill Billy’s stepfather; Adalana, the shy, lonely, affection-starved lesbian who “used” Billy’s body in the rapes that led to his arrest; David, the eight-year-old “keeper of pain”; and all of the others, including men, women, several children, both boys and girls, and the Teacher, the only one who can put them all together. You will meet each in this often shocking true story. And you will be drawn deeply into the mind of this tortured young man and his splintered, terrifying world.

Although Milligan was acquitted of his crimes and didn’t have to serve a prison sentence, he was sentenced to spend some time in a mental health center in Athens, Ohio for therapy. This was where Milligan received his best treatment, but unfortunately, it was not where he would stay. He ended up being sent to a number of other mental facilities where he was forced to endure more abuse, but this time at the hands of the state.

The author of this book, Daniel Keyes, was a professor at Ohio University in Athens during the time when Milligan was in the Athens Mental Health Center. He became interested in Billy’s case and decided he wanted to write a book about it. The Minds of Billy Milligan is the result of numerous interviews/discussions with Milligan (and some of his many personalities) and most of the people involved in the case, as well as interviews Keyes conducted with the people involved in Milligan’s personal life. Keyes also uses information from the research he did into Milligan’s numerous files. The book describes the history of abuse that Milligan suffered at the hands of his stepfather, how the separate personalities came to be, and the distinct characteristics of each of those twenty-four personalities. Keyes does his best to get to the bottom of the debate surrounding Milligan’s case and diagnosis: Did Milligan really have DID, or was he just a great actor who got out of serving time in prison for committing rape and other felonies? Keyes gives us the details, and leaves the question open for us to answer on our own. Regardless of what you choose to believe about Billy Milligan and his case, there is no doubt that he was horribly mistreated by people in his childhood, and then again by people in the mental health system.

Daniel Keyes is a good writer and The Minds of Billy Milligan is a real page-turner. It’s a biography that reads more like a suspense/crime thriller and Milligan’s story is quite compelling. I am not surprised that Milligan and his case received national attention. It was interesting to read the debate surrounding DID in the 70s and 80s, and the book was a good reminder of just how powerful our brains can be. It was also a good reminder of just how little we still know about how our brains function. I’m still not sure how I feel about the outcome of the case against Milligan, but I do know that I can only feel compassion for someone who was treated so horribly at the hands of others, especially as a child.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading about dissociative identity disorder, Milligan’s case specifically, or to anyone who enjoys reading a good crime/suspense thriller. It is informative, thought-provoking, and well written. Due to the nature of abuse Milligan endured and some of the other scenes in the book, I am also giving this book a *trigger warning* and would recommend it as an adults-only read.


(To learn more about the author, please visit the Daniel Keyes Homepage.)

**If you choose to purchase this title using the links below, I will receive a small percentage of the sale (to be used toward site maintenance and buying more books).

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