What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us: Who We Become After Tragedy and Trauma (Paperback)
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“A bold and intricate exploration of catastrophe as not just a transformative experience or a test case for resilience, but something that completely reinvents us—a reincarnation.”—Robert Kolker, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road
“A masterpiece—a book that truly captures what it means to be changed by tragedy, and a necessary salve for our troubled times.”—Ed Yong, New York Times bestselling author of An Immense World and I Contain Multitudes
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” the adage—adapted from Nietzsche’s famous maxim—goes. But how much truth is there to that ubiquitous, inexhaustible saying? Tracing the lives of six people who have experienced profoundly life-changing events, journalist Mike Mariani explores the nuances and largely uncharted territory of what happens after one’s life is severed into a before and after. If what doesn’t kill us does not necessarily make us stronger, he asks, what does it make us?
When his own life was transformed by the onset of a chronic illness, Mariani turned inward, changing his bustling, exuberant lifestyle into something more contemplative and deliberate. In this ambitious work of narrative reporting, he uses his own experience, as well as lessons from psychology, literature, mythology, and religion, to tell the stories of people living what he describes as “afterlives.” His subjects’ harrowing episodes range from a paralyzing car crash to a personality-altering traumatic brain injury to an accidental homicide that resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment. Their “afterlives,” Mariani argues, have compelled them to supercharge their identities, narrowing and deepening their focus to find a sense of meaning—whether through academia or religion or ministering to others—in lives sundered by tragedy. Only then can these people truly reinvent themselves, testifying to their own unseen multitudes and the valiant mutability of the human spirit.
Delving into lives we rarely see in such meticulous detail—lives filled with struggle, loss, perseverance, transformation, and triumph—Mariani leads us into some of the darkest corners of human existence, only to reveal our endless capacity for kindling new light.
About the Author
Since graduating with his MA in literature, Mike Mariani has worked as an English professor and freelance journalist, writing feature articles for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Newsweek, GQ, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, and The Atavist and essays for The Believer, Slate, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Pacific Standard, The Nation, and Hazlitt. Some of the topics Mariani has written about include the history of medical gaslighting, criminal cases involving mental illness, the opioid crisis, and the neuroscience of inequality. Mariani currently resides with his wife in Northern California.
“All of his subjects, Mr. Mariani writes, found their lives broken sharply into a before and an after, and he tells their stories with sensitivity, insight and honesty.”—The Wall Street Journal
“There is so much wisdom packed into these pages, all delivered with Mike Mariani’s sparkling prose, keen observations, and deep empathy. What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us is a masterpiece . . . and a necessary salve for our troubled times.”—Ed Yong, author of An Immense World
“Through intimate reportage, Mike Mariani offers a bold and intricate exploration of catastrophe as not just a transformative experience or a test case for resilience, but something that completely reinvents us: a reincarnation. A profound and rewarding read . . . brave and harrowing and wise and bursting with insight.”—Robert Kolker, author of Hidden Valley Road
“If you listen closely, this book will ask you to reexamine everything you believe about incarceration, injury, tragedy, and joy—and to think harder about how we might all do better, as individuals and institutions, to support the thriving of every human life.”—Leslie Jamison, New York Times bestselling author of The Empathy Exams and The Recovering
“These stories are rarely told: neither triumphs nor terminal catastrophes but complicated, stubborn, moving human struggles to forge a new self. . . . This is nonfiction at its best, cracking open our usual ways of seeing, to reveal lives as they really are.”—Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning
“Mariani is a writer who combines the traits of intelligence, humility, and compassion, which makes this a truly inspiring book. Once you see how hard someone will work to give purpose to their life, your own problems seem much less insurmountable.”—Catherine Gildiner, author of Good Morning, Monster
“A must-read for anyone hungry for a realistic, nuanced exploration of what it means to survive and be transformed by trauma or catastrophe . . . Mariani and the lives he chronicles demonstrate that purpose and meaning don’t simply show up after a great loss; they are the products of grief, fortitude, and deep inner work.”—Christie Tate, author of Group
“The stories told here—and Mike Mariani’s fulsome journalistic gifts—offer a nuanced clarity to this language and a powerful reminder of how difficult, complicated, and wondrous it is to be alive.”—Jeff Hobbs, New York Times bestselling author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
“A strong message of hope in the face of life-altering trauma.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A heart-rending examination of surviving trauma . . . Mariani concludes with penetrating wisdom on the nature of suffering, positing that whether tragedies make someone stronger is less important than how they shape one’s identity.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)