cover image Solitude: The Science and Power of Being Alone

Solitude: The Science and Power of Being Alone

Netta Weinstein, Heather Hansen, and Thuy-vy T. Nguyen. Cambridge Univ, $25.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-00-925660-5

Alone time can have profound physical and emotional benefits, according to this thought-provoking study from the founders of the Solitude Project, a research initiative tracing “what alone time means to different people around the world.” Interviewing subjects about time spent meditating, communing with nature, or being alone in a crowd, the authors discovered benefits ranging from the physical (reduced levels of cortisol and risk of heart disease) to the emotional (enhanced sense of freedom and self-reliance). They note, however, that when involuntary, aloneness can be debilitating: solitary confinement of prisoners can be tantamount to mental torture, and has been shown to have lifelong effects. Interweaving their research with captivating historical tidbits, the authors discuss extreme solitude embraced by 19th-century Antarctic explorers, sketch profiles of such famous loners as Emily Dickinson, and analyze the fraught experience of dining out solo, now championed by some foodies and food influencers. Evocative prose helps convey the shifting realities of solitude as experienced by both the interview subjects and the authors (upon moving to Germany, Weinstein “filled the profound emptiness of the new place by watching videos online, nonstop. Later, her relationship with solitude changed entirely with her first-born child; now solitude was a dear, long-lost friend”). It’s an illuminating take on a fundamental aspect of being human. (Apr.)