Attention - Casey Schwartz

Also by Casey Schwartz

In the Mind Fields:

Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis

This is a work of nonfiction, but the names of certain individuals as well as identifying descriptive details concerning them have been changed to protect their privacy.

Copyright © 2020 by Casey Schwartz

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.

Pantheon Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Excerpt of “Praying” from Thirst by Mary Oliver, published in the United States by Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, in 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Mary Oliver. Reprinted by permission of the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Name: Schwartz, Casey, author.

Title: Attention : a love story / Casey Schwartz.

Description: First edition. New York : Pantheon Books, 2020

Identifiers: LCCN 2019027783 (print). LCCN 2019027784 (ebook). ISBN 9781524747107 (hardcover). ISBN 9781524747114 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Schwartz, Casey. Attention. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Distraction (Psychology). Information technology—Social aspects.

Classification: LCC BF321.S337 2020 (print) | LCC BF321 (ebook) | DDC 153.7/33—dc23

LC record available at​2019027783

LC ebook record available at​2019027784

Ebook ISBN 9781524747114

Cover design by Stephanie Ross




Also by Casey Schwartz

Title Page



Part I: Seduction

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Part II: A Brief History of What Matters

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Part III: Inheritance

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14


A Note About the Author

For J.K. and, as always, M.B.

Part I



This story begins with the Adderall. I am referring to the pills that entered my life, as they did so many lives, when I was eighteen years old and stayed lodged there until I was thirty. These pills seemed to offer me pure, distilled attention any time I needed it, to compensate for whatever I imagined my deficiencies in that department to be.

And, like any love story, I remember everything about the moment it began. In 2000, I was a freshman at Brown University. One night, still in our first term, I’d come to complain to a friend about the situation in which I found myself: an essay due the following afternoon on a book I had yet to read. All around us, her clothes were strewn messily on her dorm room floor. “Do you want an Adderall?” she asked. “I can’t stand them. They make me want to stay up all night doing cartwheels in the hall.” Could there be a more enticing description? From a ball of tinfoil, she pulled out a single pill, the deep bright blue of a cartoon sky. My hand shot out to receive it. I had come there merely to vent, but I left with my first Adderall—a medication prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, a condition I knew nothing about, except for some vague awareness of classmates in high school who had needed extra time when taking their exams. At the time my friend unfurled her tinfoil ball, Adderall had been on the market roughly four years, but it was brand-new to me.

An hour later, I was in the basement of the Rock, our nickname for the library, hunkered down in the Absolute Quiet Room, in a state of ecstasy. The world fell away; it was only me, locked in the passionate embrace of the book in front of me, and the thoughts I was having about it, which tumbled out of nowhere and built into what seemed a pile of riches. When dawn came to Providence, I was hunched over in the grubby lounge of