What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Who We Become After Tragedy and Trauma

Format: Hardcover
Pub. Date: 2022-08-30
Publisher(s): Ballantine Books
List Price: $28.99

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A deep examination of what happens after life-altering events, from car accidents to incarceration, and how we forge new identities when our lives are cleaved irrevocably into a before and after

"What doesn't kill us makes us stronger," the saying—adapted from Nietzsche's famous maxim—goes. But how much truth is there to that omnipresent statement? Tracing the lives of six people who have experienced catastrophic, life-changing events, journalist Mike Mariani explores the nuances and largely uncharted territory of what happens after one's life is cleaved into a before and after. If what doesn't kill us doesn't necessarily make us stronger, he asks, what does it make us?

When his own life was transformed by the diagnosis of a chronic illness, Mariani turned inward, changing his bustling existence into a slower, more contemplative one. In this ambitious work of reporting, he uses his own experience, as well as the lessons of psychology, literature, mythology, and religion, to tell the stories of people living what he terms "afterlives." Their experiences 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 supercharged their identities, forcing them to narrow and deepen their focus to find their sense of meaning —whether through academia or religion or helping others—in identities that have been struck by tragedy and then dramatically reinvented.

Delving into lives we rarely see in such detail—lives filled with struggle, loss, perseverance, transformation, and triumph—Mariani leads us through the darkest aspects of human existence, only to show us just how much we are capable of becoming.

Author Biography

Since graduating with his MA in English literature, Mike Mariani has worked as a freelance journalist, writing feature articles for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Newsweek, GQ, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, The Nation, and The Atavist and essays for The Believer, Slate, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Pacific Standard, The Guardian, and Hazlitt. Some of the topics Mike has written about include the ethical quandary of expert witnesses in criminal cases involving mental illness, the opioid crisis and its impact on mortality rates, and the neuroscience of inequality. Mike currently resides in Northern California with his wife.

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