The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars by Paul Broks

The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars

Paul Broks

Paul Broks weaves together imaginative stories of everything from artificial intelligence to the Greek philosophers in order to sketch a beautiful, inimitable view of humanness that is as heartbreaking at it is affirming.

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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.

Advance Galley Reviews

Loss and grief is an individual process. It is unique to every person and to every situation. The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through Consciousness is Paul Borks' journey - not a literal description of the "life" aspects of that journey but rather a mental and emotional journey put on paper. An interesting addition to the books about grief. Read my complete review at Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

I ran out of time on my advance copy and unfortunately was unable to finish this book. I made it about halfway through and found it very interesting. It was intellectually stimulating and at times quite heavy. Now that the book is published, I intend to find a hard copy and finish the book. A hard copy would be much better, as there is so much content that is worthy of bookmarking and highlighting, the old fashioned way.

Broks has crafted a nonfiction book with an unreliable narrator. He is exploring the line between reality and imagination, the world of dreams and hallucinations. His wife has passed away and he is dramatically rejecting magical thinking, spirituality, belief that she endures. He imagines confronting C.S. Lewis, that sentimental author of the grieving memoir, and telling him that he's weak, overemotional, and prone to believing magic acts. But Broks dreams in his wakeful state all too often to put before us a scientific treatise on neuropsychology. He tells us in the introduction that fiction will sit beside fact in his essays, but he assures us it will be obvious. It is not necessarily. My primary complain is his exploration of Paolo Faraldo's Theory of Neuronal Relativity, because both the theorist and the theory are fictional, as is Broks' story of his colleague Lewys and his wife Ava. Broks tells the story of his colleague wrestling with and producing a test for consciousness. He claims that 10% of humans are in fact not sentient, not fully conscious, simply going through the motions of life but not truly living it. It's a harmless and intriguing philosophical idea, right? Well, philosophy zombies is an idea that's out there. But there's no test, there are few believers, and the idea is more than a little dangerous. Because Broks presents it as science, as in: "Lewys is a brilliant scientist. I can’t find fault with his work." I know he's playing a philosophical game, toying with what we'll believe of our fellow humans. But imagine those readers who don't know he's playing a game. They will learn that 10% of humans are, in fact, sub-human, empty shells without souls (to whatever extent they believe in souls in the first place). If you believe that, what won't you believe of 10% of the population? That their presence in our country is an infestation? that they are animals, not people? how do they deserve to be treated? Broks has meticulously brought these ideas together. The paralysis upon waking that gives rise to waking dreams, the question of real hallucinations and subjective truths, the question of consciousness. He has a debate with the archangel Michael. He's wondering how the brain deals with grief, with loss. With the stabs of absence he feels when he remembers that his wife Kate is not beside him. It's a fascinating collection of essays and meditation. It's truth alongside fiction. Things that are true in essence though not in literal fact. It's quite beautiful. But it's not a new genre. We already have a word for beautiful explorations of reality that explore the edges of truth and fabrication. That word is Fiction. This is a beautiful work of fiction, and should be shelved as such. If it were described as fiction in the blurb, I would give it more stars. But the fact that the author and publisher both consider this nonfiction worries me. Hopefully only responsible readers will attempt this one. And hopefully they will enjoy it, because I did. Just... enjoy responsibly. I got a copy to review from First to Read.

I absolutely loved this book. I loved the mix of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. It created the kind of edge in words that we live on every day in our minds. Broks perfectly captures the winding labyrinth of the mind and its thoughts, dreams, fantasies. I really enjoyed being able to return to this book each day to read a little and ponder on the questions Broks posits. I think, too, that it helps that many of these questions are ones that I struggle with too. Maybe that is because there are no answers. Still Broks grapples with grief, loss, philosophy, quantum mechanics, psychology, and so much more. So many of the lines in this book are quite worthy. His writing reminds me a lot of Oliver Sacks, but Broks has his own unique voice and observations. Lately, it has been very difficult for me to find a book that can pull me in and keep me interested, but I kept returning to this book again and again to learn more. I also really like the addition of the sketches. It brought something special to the book.

At the very start of this quirky book, Paul Broks describes it as a combination of memoir, neurology case studies, and fiction. I wasn't sure how I felt about that then or through reading much of the book, but I found it really served the purpose of the book well. This book is filled with musings on life, death, consciousness, self, and the brain. The fact that you don't know at the beginning of each piece if it is fiction or non plays directly into the themes of the book and makes the entire experience quite thought-provoking. This is not a long book, but it's a bit of a slow read, as it truly does make you stop and think regularly. I quite enjoyed it.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I truly enjoyed this book. The author has much to say about consciousness and the functioning of the brain and does it in a very readable format. I could feel his pain in the descriptions of the times he shared with the wife he lost. I also liked the musings and references to myth. A great memoir.

When I requested this book to read/review, I think I bit off more than I could digest. When you read the description, you will find this book to be a set of musings on lots of topics, written by a neuropsychologist who has recently lost his beloved wife to cancer. I have read a little of it and am quite impressed. But, alas, I waited too long to start it and cannot do the book justice before it expires. I hope to be able to pick it up again one day when I have the time to do it justice.

This is a bit of a random walk through some amazing edge cases in neurology and brain function, as well as insight into the author's particular brain function as he copes with the grief of losing his wife, being attached for his nihilism as he attempts to focus on truth and provable parts of brain function in a world where people want more ephemeral things like spirituality/soul/mind.

What an amazing story! I'm actually honored to be able to have read this book before it was released. Paul Broks does a fantastic job of combining the tragedy of his wife's death from cancer with his beliefs as a neuropyschologist. As a man who doesn't believe in an afterlife, he opens up about his struggle with knowing that he will never see his spouse ever again. At the same time, he justifies his atheistic point of view with all his work with his patients and scientific studies done on consciousness. But he doesn't stop there in his explanation or self-exploration. Broks also discusses the beliefs of the great ancient philosophers of Greece. If there is one downside to this book, it's that about midway through, the author gets a little to technical in his explanation of brain function for the layman to understand. Still, this book is a must for those that enjoy philosophy, psychology and the afterlife. Well done!

The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars is a commplicated book. The author, a neuropsychologist in England, combines Greek mythology, his experience of losing his wife, and his search for meaning with his case experience of people with deep neuropsychological problems (though Broks would, I think, just call them experiences). If one is deeply religious, this is probably not the right book for one. If one can not tolerate a certain amount of disjointedness, this is likewise probably not a good choice. But for those who wish to explore the interaction of perception and what we typicallly call “reality”, this will no doubt be a fascinating and engrossing volume,

I just want to preface this review by saying it's very rare for me to not finish a book. Unfortunately, The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars by Paul Broks was one of those rare books. One has to be impressed by how daunting of a task Broks took on when deciding to write a book focusing on the human consciousness, however, being an individual with very little knowledge on the theories of human consciousness, I frequently got lost in what felt like endless rambling. The book frequently shifts topic, even during the duration of a short chapter, oscillating from topics such as cancer to Greek mythology to neuropsychologist friends of Broks, making the thoughts remarkably hard to follow and learn from. As opposed to feeling like a conversation with the reader, The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars feels like a forced lecture for a class you didn't take the prerequisites for. I also felt as though the drawings scattered throughout the book, although beautiful, added very little and at often points simply confused me more. I really wanted to enjoy this book and perhaps somebody who is more knowledgeable in how the brain works would, but it was simply not my cup of tea.

This books subtitle, A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through Consciousness, is misleading. This book is a combination of memoir of the events related to the death of the author's wife and his search for life's meaning that it triggered, with some interspersed sections on consciousness. While some of the memoir sections make for compelling reading, most of the does not and the author's experience as a neuropsychologist, which he reminds us of periodically, is almost entirely irrelevant.

Brok has such a unique way of looking at the world. He does an excellent job of telling it. Reading about the loss of his wife was difficult at times but was engrossing. I enjoyed this very much. There are lots of philosophical passages, if you're into that I highly recommend this.

Honestly this book just didn’t “do” it for me. I found myself skimming over the majority of it. For someone who is looking for some conversation starters about what makes up a person...this could be the book for you. I thought I could read about cancer but quite truthfully I just couldn’t do it.

Summary: Neuropsychologist Paul Broks lost his wife to cancer. This book is part-memoir, part-philosophy, and is divided into three main sections, namely A Grief Observed, A Thousand Red Butterflies, and Into The Labyrinth. Plot: This is a book that is hard to review. Not because the content was overly intellectual, opaquely written or inaccessible to the mere mortal such as myself, but because it is such a mix that makes it hard to define. You have Greek myths, anonymised real-life case stories, fact, fiction, science and philosophy. In fairness, the author (reluctantly) warns us of his approach in the prologue. Paul Broks clearly is in grief over the loss of his wife, Kate. Essentially, however, this book seems to be a release of sorts for him. Her death gave greater impetus to the probings he was already undertaking, into Life, the Universe and everything (comment if you know that one!). I didn’t get any sense of the man behind the clinician, or any of the emotion he must have felt. From that perspective, his Stoic world-view excelled. The author is a distinguished neuropsychologist, and approaches his grief with a studied detachment. He examines assumptions he previously relied on, and even gets quasi-Descartian on some of his professional colleagues. The book does meander. It gives deep insights into his own thought processes, and is a round-about map of the journey Broks took following Kate’s demise. However, he shifts from neuro cases, to fantasy discussions with CS Lewis, to personal philosophical ramblings. The main thrust of the book, for me, seems to be his wanting to define the sense of the individual – what am I? Am I more than Me? Do thoughts have weight? God gets a few mentions, though this is not in any way a religious book. Broks gets no comfort from God, nor from his atheistic way of thinking. Broks tries to think his way through and around things, looking for meaning, but I don’t think he can find a definitive answer, other than when we are gone, there is no ghost in the machine that lives on, but rather it is how you lived and loved that informs that life. He believes a life that doubts, questions then reasons is the good life, and we should seek to know ourselves. What I Liked: Chapters by and large are short, which facilitates quick reading, and also re-reading The variety of topics mentioned was very wide. What I Didn’t Like: The fantasy stories undermined the book, as I found them necessarily contrived, and didn’t really add to the story, except to show this novel up as a contrast to how Lewis wrote of his own wife’s death. There’s no discernible structure to it, and that did grate after a while. Yes – he alluded to it in the prologue, but the book should have been renamed to Meditations on the Mind, or something. Very little to do with grief per se. The clinical, cold-eyed approach didn’t suit me. I prefer the more human style of When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. Overall: This book will appeal to those who want long and winding discussions on great themes, but which ultimately boil down to your own personal viewpoint. There is a lot of good stuff in this book, and Broks is clearly well-read. A lot of the writing will appeal to the philosophers out there, but most of us do not (want to) take the time to dive that deep – life (and reading!!!) happens in the interim. It is a good reference book, and has definite merits, but not a light read. Acknowledgements: My thanks to Penguin First To Read and the author for a free copy, in return for an honest and objective review.

The description (First line: "Paul Broks weaves together imaginative stories of everything from artificial intelligence to the Greek philosophers in order to sketch a beautiful, inimitable view of humanness that is as heartbreaking at it is affirming.") grabbed me, so I requested a copy. The rest of the description follows..."When celebrated neuropsychologist Paul Broks's wife died of cancer, it sparked a journey of grief and reflection [...]" I had never heard of Broks so his celebrity might be localized. I am also not all that acquainted with neuropsychology, and had to do a little background research (unnecessary for reading this) to familiarize myself. Broks writes in his prologue This is not a conventional book and I think you should know what you're in for. He's right. It's not. Continuing: What (I hope) you are about to read is a mix of memoir, neurological case stories, and reflections on life, death and the mind. In short and long passages, he does all that and more. Broks' shares his grief following his wife's death in PART ONE: A GRIEF OBSERVED, meandering through nonlinear memories, fantasy and myth, and talking points of his trade. (He mentions Julian Jaynes, whose Origin of Consciousness is on my to-read list, nudging the book up a notch or two closer to "eventual".) The grief is palpable. In PART TWO: A THOUSAND RED BUTTERFLIES, Broks delves more into his trade, musing much on the nature of consciousness between scientific research and theory and philosophical explorations. I kept having to set the book aside and digest his thoughts. One section prompted a mental WTH? and given that in his prologue he said that facts sit alongside fiction and that he thought the fictional elements were easily identified, I'm not sure if he was serious that not all humans are sentient - at least, that's what a colleague discovered in that particular story (although...there was considerable evidence of such in 2016 and since, but that would make his 10% far too low...) I won't spoil where the title of this second part comes'll have to find that out yourself. I admit that I was, because I am by nature, less enamored of the philosophy elements, but the stories are still good anyway. Broks recommends reading the first chapters first and the last chapters last and the rest can be skipped around. I imagine that would work for some. I chose to read them in the order presented, and in the last section PART THREE: INTO THE LABYRINTH he mixes more myth and fantasy into his reality. He relives some final days again. Cathartic. And his concept of consciousness congeals here. The pace increases until his coda. I enjoyed this the more I read. On one hand outside my wheelhouse and life experience. On the other, appealing to my scientific curiosity. I might have to look up Mr. Borks' other work, but he left me with three other book recommendations that I really want to find and read first. Meanwhile, I expect to reread this again soon.

Honestly, this book opened up a mind and I can see the world in a wholly different way now. I LOVED it.

This was a fascinating book to read. While not my usual genre, I get the feeling I'll end up returning to it time and again as I grow older. Paul Brok writes from a place of intellect and grief, and manages not to sound pretentious like so many nonfiction writers end up doing. There isn't too much technical jargon and Brok manages to take what he knows, apply it to people or stories he knows, and translate it into something the average person can read. Definitely recommended.


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