cover image Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey

Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey

Florence Williams. Norton, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-324-00348-9

“Much has been written about the science of falling in love, but very little about what happens on the other side,” writes journalist Williams (The Nature Fix) in this show-stopping, offbeat story about the science of heartbreak. Deciding to unravel “what the heck had happened to the woman I used to be” after her 25-year marriage ended, and aiming to understand how “heartbreak changes our neurons, our bodies, and our sense of ourselves,” Williams visits psychologists, geneticists, and others researching emotion and behavior. She cites studies showing divorce to be a greater health risk than smoking; hears about experiments on monogamous prairie voles, in which those separated from their partners produce more stress hormones; and learns about “broken-heart syndrome,” the symptoms of which are similar to a heart attack. Along the way, she fills out reams of health evaluations and tries dozens of healing methods, including taking Ecstasy (she hallucinates becoming a tree and her ex-husband “a strangler fig”) and a solo whitewater rafting trip (“I was flowing away from the broken bad lands of my marriage”). Unflagging research—she 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. (Feb.)