What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us

Who We Become After Tragedy and Trauma

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On Sale 2022-08-30

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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.

More from Mike Mariani

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us

Who We Become After Tragedy and Trauma

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us

— Published by Ballantine Books —