Wild Nights: Book summary and reviews of Wild Nights by Benjamin Reiss

Wild Nights

How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World

by Benjamin Reiss

Wild Nights by Benjamin Reiss X
Wild Nights by Benjamin Reiss

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Book Summary

Why is sleep frustrating for so many people? Why do we spend so much time and money managing and medicating it, and training ourselves and our children to do it correctly? In Wild Nights, Benjamin Reiss finds answers in sleep's hidden history - one that leads to our present, sleep-obsessed society, its tacitly accepted rules, and their troubling consequences.

Today we define a good night's sleep very narrowly: eight hours in one shot, sealed off in private bedrooms, children apart from parents. But for most of human history, practically no one slept this way. Tracing sleep's transformation since the dawn of the industrial age, Reiss weaves together insights from literature, social and medical history, and cutting-edge science to show how and why we have tried and failed to tame sleep. In lyrical prose, he leads readers from bedrooms and laboratories to factories and battlefields to Henry David Thoreau's famous cabin at Walden Pond, telling the stories of troubled sleepers, hibernating peasants, sleepwalking preachers, cave-dwelling sleep researchers, slaves who led nighttime uprisings, rebellious workers, spectacularly frazzled parents, and utopian dreamers. We are hardly the first people, Reiss makes clear, to chafe against our modern rules for sleeping.

A stirring testament to sleep's diversity, Wild Nights offers a profound reminder that in the vulnerability of slumber we can find our shared humanity. By peeling back the covers of history, Reiss recaptures sleep's mystery and grandeur and offers hope to weary readers: as sleep was transformed once before, so too can it change today.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This is a captivating examination and Reiss gives readers much to ponder long into the night." - Publishers Weekly

"For those interested in better understanding some of the developments that led to our contemporary notion of sleep, Reiss' effort offers a solid starting point. However, the topic is too ambitious and sprawling to be fully covered in this concise work." - Library Journal

"A thorough probing into why sleep is such a problem for so many in contemporary society ... A fresh approach to a familiar phenomenon." - Kirkus

"Just as sleep is thought by neuroscientists to 'clean' the brain's detritus of past thoughts, this book releases the too-rigid hold of past views of sleep to give us fresh reason to re-conceptualize this essential aspect of our life." - Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

"Wild Nights is a literary and historical triumph, showing how sleep patterns have been deeply connected to social structures throughout human history. It is a profound and thoroughly readable book." - Carlos H. Schenck, M.D., author of Sleep: The Mysteries, The Problems, The Solutions

"With unbridled imagination, Benjamin Reiss awakens us to sleep's pervasive influence over the course of three centuries of American culture - from the utopian visions of early reformers and the chronic exhaustion of antebellum slaves to the centrality of human slumber as a literary motif ... Wild Nights is nothing short of a tour de force." - A. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day's Close: Night in Times Past

"A fascinating look at a phenomenon we have taken for granted. Benjamin Reiss pulls the bedcovers off of sleep, revealing a deep and significant history of Western culture and politics ... Written with subtlety and provocation, this is a must-read for anyone whose head ever hit a pillow." - Lennard J. Davis, author of Enabling Acts and Obsession: A History

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Author Information

Benjamin Reiss

Benjamin Reiss is a professor of English at Emory University. The author of The Showman and the Slave and Theaters of Madness, and the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, he lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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