Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey

Written by Florence Williams

From W. W. Norton & Company:

“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.

“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)

“[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