Publishers Weekly, Starred review, Pick of the Week:
"A heady and unsparing examination of pain and how it allows us to understand others, and ourselves. . . . Jamison is ever-probing and always sensitive. Reporting is never the point; instead, her observations of people, reality TV, music, film, and literature serve as a starting point for unconventional metaphysical inquiries into poverty tourism, prison time, random acts of violence, abortion, HBO's Girls, bad romance, and sterotypes of the damaged woman artist."
Mary Karr: “Leslie Jamison has written a profound exploration into how empathy deepens us, yet how we unwittingly sabotage our own capacities for it. We care because we are porous, she says. Pain is at once actual and constructed, feelings are made based on how you speak them. This riveting book will make you a better writer, a better human.”
Eleanor Catton, winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize: "THE EMPATHY EXAMS is a book without an anaesthetic, a work of tremendous pleasure and tremendous pain. Leslie Jamison is alternately surgeon, midwife, psychiatrist, radiologist, and nurse-- and in all these things she is fiercely intelligent, fiercely compassionate, and fiercely, prodigiously brave. This is the essay at its creative, philosophical best."
Nick Flynn: “These essays—risky, brilliant, and full of heart—ricochet between what it is to be alive and to be a creature wondering what it is to be alive. Jamison’s words, torqued to a perfect balance, shine brightly, allowing both fury and wonder to open inside us.”
Charles D’Ambrosio: “The Empathy Exams is a necessary book, a brilliant antidote to the noise of our time. Intellectually rigorous, it’s also plainly personal, honest and intimate, clear-eyed about its confusions. It’s about the self as something other than a bundle of symptoms, it’s about female pain and the suffering of solitary souls everywhere, it’s an exploration of empathy and the poverty of our imaginations, it’s ultimately about the limits of language and the liberating possibilities of a whole new narrative. This fierce collection’s cri de cœur is that we desperately need new words. The Empathy Exams earns its place on the shelf alongside Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others and Illness as Metaphor and Virginia Woolf’s odd but stunning essay, ‘On Being Ill.’ Like Woolf, Leslie Jamison comes to her subject but finds nothing ready made, or, at best, a rickety, suspect vocabulary, and so, starting over, takes her ‘pain in one hand, and a lump of pure sound in the other’ and crushes them together until a vital new language begins to emerge.”
Maggie Nelson: "In The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison positions herself in one fraught subject position after the next: tourist in the suffering of others, guilt-ridden person of privilege, keenly intelligent observer distrustful of pure cleverness, reclaimer and critic of female suffering, to name but a few. She does so in order to probe her endlessly important and difficult subject—empathy, for the self and for others—a subject this whirling collection of essays turns over rock after rock to explore. Its perambulations are wide-ranging; its attentiveness to self and others, careful and searching; its open heart, true."
Michelle Orange: "Leslie Jamison writes with her whole heart and an unconfined intelligence, a combination that gives The Empathy Exams--an inquiry into modern ways and problems of feeling--a persuasive, often thrilling authority. These essays reach out for the world, seeking the extraordinary, the bizarre, the alone, the unfeeling, and finding always what is human."
Eula Biss: "Leslie Jamison threads her fine mind through the needle of emotion, sewing our desire to feel to our fear of feeling, piercing pain and sweetness."
Robert Polito, from his Afterword: “When we chance upon a work and a writer who summons and dares the full tilt of all her volatile resources, intellectual and emotional, personal and historical, the effect is, well, disorienting, astonishing. ‘We crash into wonder,’ as she says, and the span of topics Jamison tosses up is correspondingly smashing and wondrous: medical actors, sentimentality, violence, plastic surgery, guilt, diseases, the Barkley Marathons, stylish ‘ex-votos’ for exemplary artists, incarceration, wounds, scars, fear, yearning, community, and the mutations of physical pain.”
Ed Vulliamy, author of AMEXICA: War Along the Borderline: "Brilliant. At times steel-cold or chilli-hot, she picks her way through a society that has lost it way, a voyeur of voyeurism. Here now comes the post-Sontag, post-modern American essay”.
Roman Krznaric, author of Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution: "Jamison's scintillating essays are proof that empathy is the key to the literary imagination. Bold, surprising and insightful about the psychology of emotional life."