Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey (Paperback)
Winner of the 2023 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
A Smithsonian Best Science Book of 2022 • A Prospect Magazine Top Memoir of 2022 • A KCRW Life Examined Best Book of 2022
"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.
About the Author
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.
A masterful blend of investigative reporting and personal narrative, chock-full of fascinating insights, gorgeous nature writing and an ample helping of compassion (some of which Williams deservedly reserves for herself).
— Alexis Burling - San Francisco Chronicle
This innovative book will have you rooting for Williams to understand her own body’s pain—and, by extension, all of ours.
— Zibby Owens - Katie Couric Media
— People Magazine
Edifying and entertaining... [A] fascinating, memorable quest to survive and thrive in an often-heartbreaking world.
— BookPage (starred review)
This surprisingly frank and funny book is what happens when a formidable science journalist turns her powers of observation and inquiry on her own broken heart.
— Bonnie Tsui, author of Why We Swim
What a powerful book. Williams captures the heartache of divorce and the crooked road back to living. Colorful, imaginative and poignant—Heartbreak tells a gripping story of courage, sex, and adventure packed with all the newest hard science on romance and attachment. I’ve studied love for over 40 years and I was taking notes. It’s a magnificent, wise, and remarkable read!
— Helen Fisher, author of The Anatomy of Love
Heartbreak by Florence Williams is a graceful account of losing a marriage and finding another way of being. With vulnerability and veracity, Williams seeks various modes of understanding the physicality of loss. Whoever has felt the blistering heat of a broken heart will thank Florence Williams for a clear moving river of discoveries
— Terry Tempest Williams, author of Erosion
I tore through this book, unable to do anything else. Even sleep. Florence Williams has taken the most common form of psychic pain––heartbreak, her heartbreak––and transformed it into a meditative masterwork on what it means to live a good life, with biological and genetic markers and dozens of scientific studies to back up her claims. Awe: remember this word. You will feel it at the end of this book, and it could save your life.
— Deborah Copaken, author of Ladyparts
[A] show-stopping, offbeat story about the science of heartbreak... Unflagging research—[Williams] even flies to London to interview Britain’s first 'minister of loneliness'—and the author’s vulnerability make for an impressive and moving survey. This is a courageous, whirlwind tale of healing and self-discovery.
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Complex and thoughtfully researched, [Heartbreak] appealingly chronicles healing from emotional loss and offers fascinating scientific insights into the mechanics and impacts of romantic grief. A provocative and rewarding reading experience.
— Kirkus Reviews