Fires in the Dark: Healing the Unquiet Mind (Hardcover)
A NEW YORKER BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • The acclaimed author of An Unquiet Mind considers the age-old quest for relief from psychological pain and the role of the exceptional healer in the journey back to health.
“To treat, even to cure, is not always to heal.” In this expansive cultural history of the treatment and healing of mental suffering, Kay Jamison writes about psychotherapy, what makes a great healer, and the role of imagination and memory in regenerating the mind. From the trauma of the battlefields of the twentieth century, to those who are grieving, depressed, or with otherwise unquiet minds, to her own experience with bipolar illness, Jamison demonstrates how remarkable psychotherapy and other treatments can be when done well.
She argues that not only patients but doctors must be healed. She draws on the example of W.H.R. Rivers, the renowned psychiatrist who treated poet Siegfried Sassoon and other World War I soldiers, and discusses the long history of physical treatments for mental illness, as well as the ancient and modern importance of religion, ritual, and myth in healing the mind. She looks at the vital role of artists and writers, as well as exemplary figures, such as Paul Robeson, who have helped to heal us as a people.
Fires in the Dark is a beautiful meditation on the quest and adventure of healing the mind, on the power of accompaniment, and the necessity for knowledge.
About the Author
KAY REDFIELD JAMISON is the Dalio Professor in Mood Disorders and a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, as well as an honorary professor of English at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She is the coauthor of the standard medical text on bipolar disorder and author of An Unquiet Mind, Night Falls Fast, Exuberance, and Touched with Fire. Her most recent book, Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Dr. Jamison is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She is a recipient of the Lewis Thomas Prize, the Sarnat Prize from the National Academy of Medicine, and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship.
"In this loose sequel to a bestselling memoir of bipolar illness, Jamison, a writer and a psychologist, explores the process of prying a mind from disease or despair. Healing, she writes, depends on “harvesting the imagination” and navigating “the balance between remembering and forgetting”; it also, crucially, relies on support . . . Jamison emphasizes the importance of recognizing a diversity of sources of fortitude and models of accompaniment." —The New Yorker, “Best Books of 2023”
"Jamison’s wonderful Fires in the Dark: Healing the Unquiet Mind, a book about healing that, drawing on the lives and work of figures as diverse as WHR Rivers and Paul Robeson, should make us all think again about mental illness, the profession of psychiatry, and how we heal ourselves and others." — John Burnside, The Guardian
"Fascinating . . . Poignant . . . Jamison writes movingly about topics ranging from the workings of ancient Greek healing temples to the tribulations of World War I nurses facing the limits of healing soldiers’ ravaged bodies and minds." —Science News
“The desperate, uncertain, even heroic attempt to heal is at the center of Jamison’s new book . . . It is a kaleidoscopic vision of treatment and recovery that reflects her own passionately varied intellectual life. One through-line in her book is the constant nearness of loss, of pain, of suffering . . . But most of all, her work is replete with the kindnesses she has encountered in her long experience struggling with, and thinking about, mental illness.” —The New York Times
“Jamison is a beautiful writer with a vast store of knowledge . . . Her book contains a blueprint for finding a way out of darkness—a great gift for anyone who sometimes struggles to overcome psychic pain.” —The Washington Post
"Psychologist Jamison (The Unquiet Mind) brings personal and professional insight to this rigorous , deeply felt meditation on psychological healing. . . . . An eloquent, wide-ranging, and edifying look at healing relationships of all kinds." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A humane, elegantly written contribution to the literature of trauma and care . . . Jamison opens with a graceful portrait of Sir William Osler (1849-1919), the medical pioneer recognized by American doctors a century later as “the most influential physician in history . . . [and] moves on to a consideration of the ancient connections of healing, ritual, and magic, some of which come into play in modern therapy. Along the way, while looking further at stress- and trauma-borne illness, the author studs her narrative with luminous figures such as Paul Robeson and Robert Graves.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Jamison, the exquisite chronicler of her own unquiet mind, reflects on the process—and adventure—of healing in this beautiful cultural, historical, and creative exploration of what makes us whole. She introduces us to the groundbreaking work of World War I physicians working with shell-shocked soldiers; delves into public grieving; and brings in the mythic patterns and imaginative literature we need as touchstones for relief. Jamison’s elegant prose, imbued with personal warmth and deep humanity, is itself a solace, lighting the way on the path that leads us to a more peaceful present and imaginative future.” —Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone and co-host of the "Dear Therapists" podcast
“Like all of Kay Redfield Jamison’s books, Fires in the Dark is a wonderful blend of rigorous scholarship and intimate address. As she tracks the history of American (and, specifically, Baltimorean) medicine through the First World War, explores the relationship between war poets and early healers of the mind, then explores their influence and effect in wider as well as more personal settings, she creates a history of healing, which is at once thrilling in its scope and deeply touching in its particular details.” —Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, 1999–2009
“Kay Redfield Jamison has been a singular voice blending lived experience, science, and poetry to help us fathom the depths and heights of mental illness. In Fires in the Dark, she guides us through the mystery of healing, exploring psychotherapy from its ancient roots to its refinement during the First World War, linking healing to art, suffering, and courage. She once again brings together the wisdom of experience, compelling narrative, and poetic insights to reveal what it takes to heal the mind. She calls this book an ‘archipelago of thoughts, experiences, and images.’ For anyone interested in healing, it is a string of islands not to be missed.” —Thomas Insel, MD, author of Healing and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health
“A profound and beautiful book. The last chapter felt like a benediction. Paul Farmer would have admired it. It accompanies in ways he thought essential. There is so much here for the art of crafting a life of meaning . . . . Beautifully written. . . . A marvelously creative intelligence.” —Arthur Kleinman, Professor of Medical Anthropology and Psychiatry, Harvard University
“[Fires in the Dark] has a unique dramatic architecture born not just of the specific content, but the remarkably creative sequencing of that content, and a resulting overwhelming urgency.” —Michael Hersch, Professor of Composition, The Peabody Institute
“This book is beautiful. . . . The reach and breadth are consoling, confirming, and vast. There’s a sense of study and scholarship and witness shared and honored . . . the heart and quiet of it all. . . . of peace. A rainbow.” —Leo Kottke, Acoustic guitarist
“Fires in the Dark is the latest in a series of highly regarded publications by Jamison . . . It is concerned with healing, and Jamison has in her life been both the healer and the healed. Jamison takes [an] expansive approach: She is focused not only on the acute stages of mental health problems, but on what comes afterwards. . . . 'How do I take on the world? How do I take some purpose from this?'" —Niall Boyce, The Lancet
“Transcendently beautiful. . . . The pondering of what the therapeutic relationship is and how it works at its best is almost staggeringly lovely and every word of it rings completely true.” —Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon