The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through Consciousness by Paul Broks- New Release Book Review
When celebrated neuropsychologist Paul Broks's wife died of cancer, it sparked a journey of grief and reflection that traced a lifelong attempt to understand how the brain gives rise to the soul. The result of that journey is a gorgeous, evocative meditation on fate, death, consciousness, and what it means to be human.
The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars weaves a scientist’s understanding of the mind – its logic, its nuance, how we think about what makes a person – with a poet’s approach to humanity, that crucial and ever-elusive why. It’s a story that unfolds through the centuries, along the path of humankind’s constant quest to discover what makes us human, and the answers that consistently slip out of our grasp. It’s modern medicine and psychology and ancient tales; history and myth combined; fiction and the stranger truth.
But, most importantly, it’s Broks’ story, grounded in his own most fascinating cases as a clinician—patients with brain injuries that revealed something fundamental about the link between the raw stuff of our bodies and brains and the ineffable selves we take for who we are. Tracing a loose arc of loss, acceptance, and renewal, he unfolds striking, imaginative stories of everything from Schopenhauer to the Greek philosophers to jazz guitarist Pat Martino in order to sketch a multifaceted view of humanness that is as heartbreaking at it is affirming.
On my crowded bookshelf nestled between novels and Vaccai vocal exercise books, is one of my favourite books of all, Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology. It’s one I’ve read time and again, gotten tea stains on (I am the worst), and as much as some of my more spiritually minded friends have found his assertions depressing, I cheered.
Yes! I am a chunk of meat! And I make stories! It really couldn’t get better than that. How wonderful to have your perspective validated! It’s great. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I tend to remember. And read those books again. And drink my tea over them. When they send me into research spirals, so much the better.
So, I was naturally excited to hear Broks was releasing another book. My cupboards are well stocked with tea, I have permanent insomnia... I was ready to dive into his observations and categorically pull them apart at the seams, seeing what I agree with and what I can research for... years, I guess. It’s brain science.
When I found out the subject matter- his memoir about grief mixed in with the brain stuff I was in for, I was both sad for him (I’ve never experienced a spouse’s death, and I can’t begin to comprehend the loss) and grateful he wrote a book like that. There are a lot of books- and people, really, that claim everything happens for a reason, and there is an afterlife. We need more stories about getting on with life when there is no afterlife to soothe the pain. At least I do.
The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars examines consciousness, one of my favourite subjects. It was a joy to read his opinions about theories I’ve fussed over (like the bicameral mind), and also ones I’ve never heard of until his book. I’ve found that some things are best enjoyed through books so you don’t bore your friends to death… If you are interested in thinking about thoughts, here’s the book for you.
Links for Paul Broks: