cover of The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

The Empathy Exams

Leslie Jamison

Copyright 2014, Graywolf Press

A fantastic collection of essays meditating on our humanity and the ways that we relate to others. Jamison explores a range of topics from an exploration of one of the most brutal long-distance running races to an examination of lessons learned while acting as a patient on medical TV shows. She is interested in what exactly empathy is; how we are constantly being shaped by it; how we delude ourselves into faking empathy. She is fiercely honest as she questions her own motives so that she can elicit actual empathy from the people whose stories she explores in the essays.

This collection is wonderful because Jamison is not writing with any personal sense of achievement or clarity, rather she is inviting us to journey with her as she parses the numerous obstacles one must overcome when seeking genuine empathy for others. This journey, which remains incomplete at the end of the book, presents us with dual avenues of introspection: the insights gained through Jamison’s personal honesty as well as the empathy she uncovers while she draws us towards the subjects of her essays. These avenues are well worth following and Jamison’s essays are delightful maps.