Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind


Explores the mysterious suicide of Paula's most successful and envied friend, bestselling author Iris Chang, who seemed to have everything: fame, fortune, family, youth and beauty. The book looks at the devastating and non-discriminating effect of bipolar disorder as an underlying  cause of such seemingly inexplicable suicides. Suicides in women often follow major hormonal events, such as childbirth or menopause, when rocking hormones worsen more mild bipolar symptoms, making what can be an advantage (seemingly unlimited energy without sleep) into a grave problem of psychosis or extreme depression.


  • Interview on C-SPAN’s “BOOK TV” Interviewed March 28, 2009, at Organization of American Historians conference in Seattle.
  • CHICAGO READER interview by Kerry Reid: “Paula Kamen digs deep into the ambitious life and tragic death of her most successful friend…[and] offers the same meticulous attention to detail and thorough immersion in primary sources that distinguishes Chang’s exhaustively researched books.”
  • CHICAGO TRIBUNE review: “[An] engrossing inquiry…illuminating on many points.…The book is fascinating in tracing how Chang went about consciously creating a personal mythology.… Written from a memoirist’s point of view…[Kamen] is laudably honest.”
  • BOSTON GLOBE in group review, “First Person Guides to Dark Times”: For most who experience chronic daily headache, getting through the day is a Sisyphean task. Yet Kamen describes her descent into headache hell with verve and wit… Her prose is a pleasure, and as a fellow headache sufferer, I found this book packed with useful information. She covers diet, doctors, and alternative therapies, and even researches physiology. For readers who have headaches and for chronic pain sufferers, this book is a must-read.”
  • KIRKUS: “A rewardingly complex portrait of a driven and troubled woman.”
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS: “A nuanced portrait of a brilliant but troubled person.”
  • PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES (American Psychiatric Association): “At times touching and poignant…Kamen’s is a cautionary tale, alerting all of us who work in mental health, as well as those of us who don't, to pay attention to behaviors that seem too exaggerated, too intense, and too far out of the ordinary.”
  • THE ASIAN REPORTER:  “A valuable book because of its handling of mental illness in general, and specifically for its insight into mental illness in the Asian community.…Finding Iris Chang gives us an appreciation of what was lost when we lost Iris Chang.”
  • SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: “Part biography, part memoir, part literary detective story and part treatise on mental illness.… In Kamen’s account, [Chang] emerges as a genuinely tragic figure.”
  • SAN JOSE MAGAZINE: “[Kamen’s] tale is one of friendship and discovery, as well as an insightful look at the mental illness that toppled a highly respected mind.”
  • SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: “A heartfelt…piece of journalism.… One of the book’s most poignant moments comes near the end, when Kamen visits an archive that Iris has—chillingly—finalized just before her death.”
  • ST. LOUIS POST DISPATCH: “[A] carefully reconstructed account.… Kamen invested considerable effort into drawing a detailed portrait of an unusual woman whose death left many who knew her wondering how she could have taken her own life.… Kamen has given us answers, not just for Iris Chang but for many others. Those answers can be instructive for those who didn’t know Chang but may know people with similar conditions, those under the kind of stress that can lead to a breakdown and perhaps suicide.”
  • CHICAGO MAGAZINE: “Allow[s] a glimpse into the deteriorating mind of a talented woman whose severe depression and bipolar disorder led her to take her own life.”
  • BLOOMBERG NEWS: “[An] homage to the author of The Rape of Nanking.… At times, Finding Iris Chang reads like a thriller.”


“Iris Chang inspired many, including me.  Now Iris’s life has inspired her friend Paula Kamen to write a tender remembrance of a great woman.”

—James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys

“Part biography, part detective story, part memoir of a thorny but enduring friendship, this book takes us to the heart of Iris Chang’s tragic life. Paula Kamen writes with astute psychological insight, the intuition of a close friend—and with the determination of an investigative reporter resolved to get to the bottom of a death as baffling as it is heartbreaking.”

—Molly Worthen, author of The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost

 “Journalist Paula Kamen leaves no clue unturned in this riveting narrative that is part detective story, part psychological drama, part homage to a friend, as she peels back the complexities of Iris Chang’s life and death—revealing the obsessions, frailties, significance, and, ultimately, the humanity of this legendary Chinese American woman warrior.”

—Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People