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The Empathy Exams: Essays Paperback – 5 Jun 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (5 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847088392
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847088390
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 315,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A work of tremendous pleasure and tremendous pain. Leslie Jamison is so intelligent, so compassionate, and so fiercely, prodigiously brave. This is the essay at its creative, philosophical best' --Eleanor Catton, author of The Luminaries

'Extraordinary... Her cerebral, witty, multichambered essays tend to swing around to one topic in particular: what we mean when we say that we feel someone else's pain. I'll read whatever she writes. A rare writer' --New York Times

'Extraordinary, exacting and virtuosic... There is a glory to her writing that derives as much from its ethical generosity as it does from the lovely vividness of the language itself. It's hard to imagine a stronger, more thoughtful voice emerging this year' --Olivia Laing, New York Times Book Review

'A page-turner... Jamison is revitalising the post-Susan Sontag essay' --Sunday Times

'Extraordinary... Jamison is one of the form's most compelling voices. The Empathy Exams is a challenging book, pushing the reader forward even when the subject matter grows gruesome or difficult' --New Statesman

'Leslie Jamison has been hailed as a startling new voice in American letters. The Empathy Exams demonstrates why she's attracting such attention. She combines fearless questioning with utterly compelling story-telling' --New Internationalist

'This mix of low and high cultures, contemporary and ancient, intimate and public makes her writing and subjects shockingly fresh and new. Think Sloane Crosley in a deep and contemplative email exchange with Susan Sontag' --Twin Factory

'The Empathy Exams is substantial, well-read, full of research. The best pieces are reportage. Jamison is lucid and lively with a good eye for interest' --Times Literary Supplement

'This mix of low and high cultures, contemporary and ancient, intimate and public makes her writing and subjects shockingly fresh and new. Think Sloane Crosley in a deep and contemplative email exchange with Susan Sontag' --Twin Factory

'Each essay is illuminating, stylish and a pleasure to read' --'Book of the Year', Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, Guardian

'This mix of low and high cultures, contemporary and ancient, intimate and public makes her writing and subjects shockingly fresh and new. Think Sloane Crosley in a deep and contemplative email exchange with Susan Sontag' --Twin Factory

'Essay collections of note include Leslie Jamison's brilliant Empathy Exams, which explores pain, Frida Kahlo and literary heroines' --'Book of the year', Irish Times

'This mix of low and high cultures, contemporary and ancient, intimate and public makes her writing and subjects shockingly fresh and new. Think Sloane Crosley in a deep and contemplative email exchange with Susan Sontag' --Twin Factory

About the Author

LESLIE JAMISON grew up in Los Angeles. Educated at Harvard College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she has also worked as an innkeeper in California, a schoolteacher in Nicaragua, and an office temp in Manhattan. She is currently studying for a PhD at Yale University, where she is writing a dissertation on poverty and degradation in twentieth century American writing. Her first novel, The Gin Closet, was published in 2010.

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2.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Catherine P on 10 July 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This book is written in a lively, intelligent style. It is also written with all the unbridled passion of youth, which was a bit tedious to me as a sedate older person. I found the title essay quite engaging, about the author's experience being employed as an actor to simulate distress in order to train medical students how to show empathy, as well as about her experience as a patient undergoing surgeries and being on the receiving end of medical empathy or the lack of it. The other essays are about pain in various ways. Jamison reports on being a kind of pain tourist, visiting miners, prisoners, and people who live in ghettos, trying to imagine their pain while communicating unease with being voyeuristic about being a mere observer of it. She writes about her own pain after being punched in the face by a stranger; I imagine her reflections on this horrible experience might help others who've endured random violence. An essay entitled 'Grand Unifed Theory of Female Pain' is not that so much as a justification for being what she says a boyfriend called her, a 'wound dweller.' It made me feel squeamish, but it could be a way for others to begin to think about the kinds of experiences young women find painful.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia C.C. on 13 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback
I was expecting to like this book. I had read good reviews in several respectable publications, and was especially interested in the assertion, by two different reviewers, that Jamison shows similarities in potential and intelligence to the great essayist Susan Sontag. And, since essay writing seems to have been nearly forgotten as a popular literary form, it was very nice to see attention being given to the book. Unfortunately, The Empathy Exams didn't come close to deserving the hype.

To get to the heart of the problem, none of the essays seems in the least insightful. Each essay takes as its topic one aspect of empathy. And, though Jamison relays some information, usually through the telling of a true story, she never pushes beyond the facts to explore the meaning, import, impact, or implications of empathy. There is essentially no analysis, no exploration of greater significance, no rumination upon empathy as a fundamental quality of many human beings (or what that fundamental quality reveals about greater human nature). Or, conversely, what a lack of empathy might mean. The essays never expand beyond the specific stories. Sadly, I learned nothing beyond the facts (which weren't very interesting).

Another disappointment. The writing was quite dull. Good writing, non-fiction or otherwise, should be engaging. It should draw a reader in, seize the intellect and/or imagination, and convey something new to the reader in a way that energizes him/her. Perhaps Jamison just isn't a very good writer, or perhaps she mistakenly believes that "intellectual" writing must be arid and unenjoyable. Too bad, either way. I had to force myself to finish each essay. And by the end of the volume, I was sadly forced to admit that they weren't worth the time spent.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Average User on 16 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
disappointing - she's all over the place and often a tad self-indulgent
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. M. Hazel on 29 Aug. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is not anything that could possibly be regarded as a coherent whole. It is a ragbag of suffering and sorrow, frankly it leads nowhere and is a most disappointing effort.
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