Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey

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W. W. Norton & Company, 2022 M02 1 - 304 pages
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“Keen observer [and] deft writer” (David Quammen) Florence Williams explores the fascinating, cutting-edge science of heartbreak while seeking creative ways to mend her own.

When her twenty-five-year marriage suddenly falls apart, journalist Florence Williams expects the loss to hurt. But when she starts feeling physically sick, losing weight and sleep, she sets out in pursuit of rational explanation. She travels to the frontiers of the science of “social pain” to learn why heartbreak hurts so much—and why so much of the conventional wisdom about it is wrong.

Soon Williams finds herself on a surprising path that leads her from neurogenomic research laboratories to trying MDMA in a Portland therapist’s living room, from divorce workshops to the mountains and rivers that restore her. She tests her blood for genetic markers of grief, undergoes electrical shocks while looking at pictures of her ex, and discovers that our immune cells listen to loneliness. Searching for insight as well as personal strategies to game her way back to health, she seeks out new relationships and ventures into the wilderness in search of an extraordinary antidote: awe.

With warmth, daring, wit, and candor, Williams offers a gripping account of grief and healing. Heartbreak is a remarkable merging of science and self-discovery that will change the way we think about loneliness, health, and what it means to fall in and out of love.


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Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

“Much has been written about the science of falling in love, but very little about what happens on the other side,” writes journalist Williams (The Nature Fix) in this show-stopping, offbeat story ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - eachurch - LibraryThing

In Heartbreak, Williams tackles a complex and difficult subject. When her husband leaves their 25-year-old marriage, Williams is heartbroken. As a nature advocate and science writer, she sets out to ... Read full review


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About the author (2022)

A contributing editor at Outside magazine, Florence Williams is the author of Breasts, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and The Nature Fix. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, National Geographic, and many other outlets. She lives in Washington, DC.

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