Book Review: The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars
A Neuropsychologist’s Odyssey Through Consciousness
BY PAGE FIVE of this luminous book I was weeping, bearing witness to the author’s loss of his wife to cancer. The last breath. The body removed. The vow to wear her wedding ring the rest of his life. But wait! Because this book is not maudlin. Author Paul Broks is an English neuropsychologist and science writer with a sweeping appreciation for the classics and for what he calls the “cosmic shebang.” In his latest book, The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars, he tackles a challenging subject: What is consciousness? And in his explorations, he invites us into a labyrinth of fascinating subjects. There are clinical stories, the patients about whom he taught lessons when he was a professor of clinical neuropsychology. These read a bit like Oliver Sacks, with their unusual symptoms, such as sudden, unexplained amnesia. Then he’ll take a left turn and dive into an inquiry on whether or not the Greeks actually encountered their gods. Next, he’ll take us on a fantasy where he hangs out with C. S. Lewis or enters another dream state. In his pursuit of understanding the dimensions of human experience, Broks will bend your mind a little. “Light yourself a spliff,” he warns at one point. One does not need to be in an altered state to go along on this exhilarating literary ride.
IN HIS EXPLORATIONS, HE INVITES US INTO A LABYRINTH OF FASCINATING SUBJECTS
So, what does it all mean, Dr. Broks? When you study the Greeks, and the literature, and the cosmos, and lose the wife? “Everything comes to an end in the end,” he writes. “And the end is endless.” I believe him.
—KATHRYN DRURY WAGNER