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Heartbreak: Book summary and reviews of Heartbreak by Florence Williams

Heartbreak

A Personal and Scientific Journey

by Florence Williams

Heartbreak by Florence Williams X
Heartbreak by Florence Williams
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About this book

Book Summary

Florence Williams explores the fascinating, cutting-edge science of heartbreak while seeking creative ways to mend her own.

When her twenty-five-year marriage unexpectedly falls apart, journalist Florence Williams expects the loss to hurt. What she doesn't expect is that she'll end up in the hospital, examining close-up the way our cells listen to loneliness. 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.

Searching for insight as well as personal strategies to game her way back to health, Williams tests her blood for genetic markers of grief, undergoes electrical shocks in a laboratory while looking at pictures of her ex, and ventures to the wilderness in search of awe as an antidote to loneliness. For readers of Wild and Lab Girl, 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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Reviews

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This information about Heartbreak shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Barbara C. (Riverside, CA)

Heartbreak takes many forms.
This is one of my favorite BookBrowse offerings. So glad I received it. The parts on rejection hit me. I feel so sorry for the author. Her way out of the pain would not be mine. But we all suffer in different ways. The science woven together with the anecdotes and stories made it very understandable. Many of the statistics were very much applicable to my own story. I imagine almost everyone could use this book to some degree, if they were honest. I am going to share it with my niece who is a therapist and suffered a similar marital breakup. I may wait until it is published and buy her her own copy. I need to reread and remember more.

Charla W. (Biloxi, MS)

A Personal Journey toward Healing and Understanding
I found Florence Williams' exploration into the realm of heartache to be enthralling. She turned her personal heartbreak into a research project that helped her endure the loss. In an effort to understand the pain associated with heartbreak she left no stone unturned. I truly appreciate her baring her soul while traveling this path.

Eileen C. (New York, NY)

When Rivers Aren't Enough
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 discover why she is so devastated—it was a sufficient marriage, one she calls ambivalent, but not a good one—and what is happening to her body. Ultimately this exploration of romantic loss and grief is about the importance of the mind-body connection and the power of story. Highly recommended for anyone interested in genomics or seeking ways to understand why breakups can be so hard on us.

Lauri Z. (Washington, DC)

"Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey" by Florence Williams
First, let me say I loved this book, however it may not be for everyone. I'm not a science geek but I do find it fascinating to learn about the deeper interaction of such emotion-driven behaviors as love on our brain and bodies. That being said, I learned a lot about the author's exploration of human loneliness and found it particularly relevant in the era of COVID 19.
Williams sets the tone for each chapter with a quotation, and ultimately when strung together allows us to follow her personal journey to understand the loneliness of her heartbreak from an unexpected divorce. The author specifies her purpose for exploring this topic right up front: "Our bodies want to feel safe and to feel loved. What happens to us when we lose that attachment is the central theme of the book." She follows this with an opening quotation by Marilynne Robinson's from the book of Gilead in chapter two that brings the reader closer to her intent: entitled "The Heart: It is a strange thing to feel wellness and grief in the same organ. There is no telling one from the other."
I was intrigued immediately when Williams wondered if an anti-loneliness drug, beyond the current serotonin uptake pills, could be created by studying the science of brain circuitry. I pondered this possibility and its potential impact on human interaction. Could this be life changing for the human race? Despite Williams' acknowledgment of the fact that most of us can't personally study our own bodies in the context of actual scientific methods, I was happy to hear her say that all is not lost for the average person, because we can learn to read our moods to achieve some understanding of the correlation between the brain and emotions. This kept me reading, and maybe questioning if this could be true for me.
It never occurred to me that there are any, let alone very few scientific studies on this subject that Williams was keen on learning about to concretely explain her personal heartbreak. Who knew that there was even research studying the "cellular fingerprints of heartache." This was a wow for me. While the author is not a scientist she wanted to go beyond her journey of talk therapy to see if there was more she could do to help herself cope with the devastating impact of her divorce on her daily emotional functioning. Even though I am not personally (thankfully) currently experiencing this degree of pain, I was captivated by her seemingly desperate need to "fix" herself.
Williams dug deep, subjecting herself to multiple lab studies of her blood, personality tests and traveling the world meeting with experts, both social behaviorists and scientific minds. I went along for the ride which was fascinating. At the end of her book she said "I'd been undertaking the rituals all along, albeit ones largely rooted in science, but resolution of the impact of loneliness is still not easy, even knowing science."
But I thought it was okay for me not to come away with a concrete "solution" to the human emotion of loneliness and still love the book. But back to the pill…a reality?
As if Williams' premise was being validated, I just saw that a new book was published in 2021, "Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness: The History of Loneliness".
Who knew…

Peggy H. (North East, PA)

The Science Behind Heartbreak
Just as Nora Ephron dissects a breakup from an emotional (and funny) point of view, Florence Williams in "Heartbreak" tries to give meaning to her personal pain by scientific explanations. We follow her journey from learning that her 25-year marriage is in peril with all of the physical reactions of her body as well as the mental breakdowns over the course of several years. It is fascinating to learn that the loss of a loved one (not through death) creates real physiological changes. All of the information is extremely interesting and presented in a clear and easy to understand fashion.

Gloria F. (York, PA)

Who hasn't had their heart broken at least once?
How do you mend a broken heart? Florence Williams asks that question when her decades-long marriage runs aground and then shatters. Because she is a science journalist, she takes the question to the experts. I was amazed at how many scientists are investigating how heartbreak affects our physical and mental wellness. Florence takes their findings and advice and applies them to her own life. She meditates, experiments with mind-altering drugs, takes nature trips and meets people in all stages of heartbreak survival. The book is filled with interesting insights. For me, things bogged down a bit when she described her river trips, but maybe that's because I'm not so much an outdoors person. Overall, it was a great read. In the end, she discovers that time does indeed heal all wounds.

...8 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Florence Williams

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

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