The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
As is always true of a book of essays and as something I NEVER seem to learn, this book would be better digested essay-by-essay instead of as a whole. I'd say that maybe one day I'd stop being a dumbass... it's unlikely.
Jamison's voice is equal parts frustrating and relatable. She relays her truth... the type of truth that most of us expend a lot of energy to hide. And that honesty was imparted within the most interesting stories. The West Memphis Three, the Barkley Mountain marathon, Morgellon's Disease... all fascinating. But fascinating wasn't the endgame for Jamison. She uses these cases as a way to examine human empathy... in a way that doesn't feel like a lecture. The author is clearly currently working on her own empathetic responses and it's like she was taking her readers along with her for the journey.
Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison's visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another's pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain--real and imagined, her own and others'--Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory--from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration--in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.