What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us
“A bold and intricate exploration of catastrophe as not just . . . a test case for resilience, but something that completely reinvents us—a reincarnation.”—Robert Kolker, 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, author of An Immense World
"What doesn't kill me makes me stronger," 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 a chronic illness, Mariani turned inward, changing his bustling existence into a more contemplative one. In this ambitious work of reporting, he uses his own experience and the lessons of psychology, literature, mythology, and religion to tell the stories of people living "afterlives." Their experiences range from a paralyzing car crash to a personality-altering traumatic brain injury to an accidental homicide and a sentence of life imprisonment. Their afterlives, Mariani argues, supercharge 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 rarely seen 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 how much we can become.