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When celebrated neuropsychologist Paul Broks's wife died of cancer, it sparked a journey of grief and reflection that traced a lifelong attempt to understand how the brain gives rise to the soul. The result of that journey is a gorgeous, evocative meditation on fate, death, consciousness, and what it means to be human.
The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars weaves a scientist’s understanding of the mind – its logic, its nuance, how we think about what makes a person – with a poet’s approach to humanity, that crucial and ever-elusive why. It’s a story that unfolds through the centuries, along the path of humankind’s constant quest to discover what makes us human, and the answers that consistently slip out of our grasp. It’s modern medicine and psychology and ancient tales; history and myth combined; fiction and the stranger truth.
But, most importantly, it’s Broks’ story, grounded in his own most fascinating cases as a clinician—patients with brain injuries that revealed something fundamental about the link between the raw stuff of our bodies and brains and the ineffable selves we take for who we are. Tracing a loose arc of loss, acceptance, and renewal, he unfolds striking, imaginative stories of everything from Schopenhauer to the Greek philosophers to jazz guitarist Pat Martino in order to sketch a multifaceted view of humanness that is as heartbreaking at it is affirming.
About the Author
Paul Broks is an English neuropsychologist and science writer. He is a former Prospect columnist, and his work has been featured in The Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, and Granta. Trained as a clinical psychologist at Oxford University, Broks is a specialist in clinical neuropsychology and is the author of Into the Silent Land, which was shortlisted for The Guardian's First Book Award.
“The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars is a work of extraordinary insight and imagination. Broks is a 21st century Dante of the human psyche, guiding us on a journey full of surprise, erudition, and wit.”
—DAVID GEORGE HASKELL, author of The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees
"In this gorgeous kaleidoscope of a book, the neuroscientist Paul Broks takes us image by image, story by story, into an exploration of life with all its brilliant hues of grief and despair, joy and resilience, biology and society. There's science here, and curiosity, and humanity, all forming a remarkable portrait of who we are—and who we hope to be."
—DEBORAH BLUM, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook
“Broks weaves many threads—memoir, neuroscience, and metaphysics—into a rich fabric of reflection, speculation and deep feeling. This is a work that defies categorization, fusing non-fiction and imagination into a single instrument of piercing insight and emotional honesty.”
—CHARLES YU, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
"The problem for those who followed Alexander Luria and Oliver Sacks was that it was impossible not to walk in their footsteps, but equally impossible to fill their shoes. The clinical neuropsychologist Paul Broks is one of the few who has managed to rise to the challenge... [Broks has] his own distinctive voice, marked by an unusual combination of analytic thought and poetic lyricism... It is easy enough to understand, as Broks does, that there is no permanent self; that we are always in flux and internally divided. The difficult task is to know how to live in the light of this knowledge. For this you need the kind of insight that comes from close attention to whole human beings, not from analysis of their brain scans. Broks has this kind of insight in spades. Despite, or rather because of, his willingness to stare reality in the face, Broks's book is ultimately uplifting. Without naming it, he seems to capture the spirit of the Japanese concept mono no aware—the bitter-sweet pathos of things."
“In a style sometimes reminiscent of The Last Lecture, Broks blends wonder with pessimistic hope. He adumbrates that there is something unbelievable, perhaps even magical, in the 'absurdity' of consciousness and related phenomena, and he thrills to the precarious individuality of our imaginings. [The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars is] a unique addition to the realm of popular brain science.”
“In this meditative investigation into the nature and history of consciousness, Broks is an engaging Virgil to the reader’s Dante as we tour the Jungian labyrinth of the mind, successfully blending Greek mythology, philosophy, allegory, memoir, case studies, and thought experiments… Broks plants seeds that flower pages later as he explains that our mental landscape seems to extend far beyond the confines of our skull-sized kingdoms, or as Hamlet keenly observed, ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.’”
“More than a compilation of case studies, Broks’s book is a digressive journey through the subject of human consciousness… Like the box of old family photographs Broks achingly describes, this metascience narrative is well worth sorting through.”
"This is a wonderful, strange, and genre-defying book... [The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars] powerfully evokes the beauty and absurdity, the sadness and the mystery, the beating pulse of life."