The subjects of this stylish and audacious collection of essays range from an assault in Nicaragua to a Morgellons meeting; from Frida Kahlo’s plaster casts to a gangland tour of LA. Jamison is interested in how we tell stories about injury and pain, and the limits that circumstances, bodies and identity put on the act of describing.
Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed?
By confronting pain—real and imagined, her own and others’—Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.
- Leslie Jamison “The Empathy Exams: Essays”
- The New York Times: “Contemplating Other People’s Pain ‘The Empathy Exams,’ Wide-Ranging Essays”
“Extraordinary . . . she calls to mind writers as disparate as Joan Didion and John Jeremiah Sullivan as she interrogates the palpitations of not just her own trippy heart but of all of ours. . . . Her cerebral, witty, multichambered essays tend to swing around to one topic in particular: what we mean when we say we feel someone else’s pain. . . . I’m not sure I’m capable of recommending a book because it might make you a better person. But watching the philosopher in Ms. Jamison grapple with empathy is a heart-expanding exercise.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times