A Personal and Scientific Journey

22 February 2022


Florence Williams explores the fascinating, cutting-edge science of heartbreak while seeking creative ways to mend her own

When her twenty-five-year marriage unexpectedly falls apart, journalist Florence Williams expects the loss to hurt. What she doesn’t expect is that she’ll end up in the hospital, examining close-up the way our cells listen to loneliness. She travels to the frontiers of the science of “social pain” to learn why heartbreak hurts so much and why so much of the conventional wisdom about it is wrong.

Searching for insight as well as personal strategies to game her way back to health, Williams tests her blood for genetic markers of grief, undergoes electrical shocks in a laboratory while looking at pictures of her ex and ventures to the wilderness in search of awe as an antidote to loneliness. For readers of Wild and Lab Girl, Heartbreak is a remarkable merging of science and self-discovery that will change the way we think about loneliness, health and what it means to fall in and out of love.


"Williams, by investigating the science behind a broken heart, turns her personal experiences into something universal and, in the end, useful." — Prospect

"[Readers] will learn as much from Williams’s intellectual rigor as from her fearlessness in surviving a broken heart." — Sebastian Modak, The New York Times Book Review

"In Heartbreak [Williams] reprises [the] determined, deep-dive reporting [of The Nature Fix], this time seeking the same healing for her shattered self... This is one of the joys of reading a gifted science journalist: You learn so much stuff without having to study it yourself... [A] wise and brave book." — Marriane Szegedy-Maszak, The Washington Post

"What a powerful book. Williams captures the heartache of divorce and the crooked road back to living. Colorful, imaginative and poignant—Heartbreak tells a gripping story of courage, sex, and adventure packed with all the newest hard science on romance and attachment. I’ve studied love for over 40 years and I was taking notes. It’s a magnificent, wise, and remarkable read!" — Helen Fisher, author of The Anatomy of Love

"A masterful blend of investigative reporting and personal narrative, chock-full of fascinating insights, gorgeous nature writing and an ample helping of compassion (some of which Williams deservedly reserves for herself)." — Alexis Burling, The San Francisco Chronicle


Winner — PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, 2023

Also By: Florence Williams View all by author...



160 x 236 mm • 304 pages


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