Book review: First, We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story about Anxiety by Sarah Wilson. Reviewed by Catarina Gaglianone.

Date published: April 2018

Paperback price: £12.99

Link to book on Waterstones website

Reviewer: Catarina Gaglianone, PhD student at the School of Health in Social Sciences

Reviewer expertise: Imagination (prospective mental imagery) in those with traits of anxiety and depression


What is the book about and who is it aimed at?

The book is about Sarah’s (the author’s) personal anxiety journey and how she made sense of it all. This includes personal, real-life accounts of how anxiety manifested for her. This sits alongside interviews that she conducted with experts including His Holiness Dalai Lama, DSM-5 editors, and her psychiatrists.  Sarah aims the book at everyone who has had anxiety, she writes “… because I’m sick of being lonely”.

A brief description of the content of the book  

Sarah opens with the idea of being alone. Feeling that she doesn’t know what the never-ending thoughts, and the countless therapies, are all for. Do we know what we are doing? Sarah recalls her conversation with his Holiness the Dalai Lama, she asked him how does one stop their mind from running, and he replied “It’s impossible”.  Sarah reflects on the conversation as if his Holiness was saying: it’s human, and you are OK. 

Sarah then proceeds to try to understand when anxiety came to be, when did our understanding of anxiety come to light. And who decides what anxiety is - the doctors, the psychiatrists, the authors of the DSM? She reflects on the chemical imbalance that those with anxiety supposedly have: what comes first, the imbalance or the anxiety?  The genetic component, the normalization of anxiety in today’s society - Sarah reflects on these topics by recalling her own experiences with anxiety. This includes her experiences with psychiatry, her hormonal condition (Hashimoto’s), periods of not taking her medication, flares of suicidality and mania.

Is the content in line with best practice/research evidence?

Sarah relates her own experiences to academic journal articles in reputable journals such as Nature. She cites several studies as she considers various topics, such as genes, and the relationship between anxiety and autoimmune disorders. The main points she makes in the book, such the impact of nature on those with anxiety, are very much in line with current research literature on the topic. Ultimately  this book provides a foundational understanding of what it is like to live with anxiety, rather than an evidence-based review of research literature.

Would the book be helpful to its target reader? If so, how? Would it be helpful to anyone else?

The book has a very positive outlook and it's written as if from a friend to a friend.  The book is relatable, light-hearted, witty, and uses easily understood language, which makes it an informative, hopeful read.  The book is not shy of the challenging aspects of anxiety and living with it on a daily basis. The aim of the book is to give a voice to those with anxiety, so those who live with the condition do not feel so alone, and it definitely accomplishes that.

What is your final, overall opinion of the book?

This is a very personal account of what anxiety looks like to one individual. It does not give any other points of view apart from the author’s, so even though relatable and one can empathise with the author, it might not resonate with every reader, or everyone with anxiety or depression. Nevertheless, it does give an outside voice to those who live with very loud, very expressive, and at times demanding, inner voices. This book says “anxiety is human and you are OK.”