A Next Big Idea Club Must-Read Nonfiction Book of Winter 2020
A revelatory investigation of friendship, with profound implications for our understanding of what humans and animals alike need to thrive across a lifetime.
The phenomenon of friendship is universal and elemental. Friends, after all, are the family we choose. But what makes these bonds not just pleasant but essential, and how do they affect our bodies and our minds?
In Friendship, science journalist Lydia Denworth takes us in search of friendship’s biological, psychological, and evolutionary foundations. She finds friendship to be as old as early life on the African savannas—when tribes of people grew large enough for individuals to seek fulfillment of their social needs outside their immediate families. Denworth sees this urge to connect reflected in primates, too, taking us to a monkey sanctuary in Puerto Rico and a baboon colony in Kenya to examine social bonds that offer insight into our own. She meets scientists at the frontiers of brain and genetics research and discovers that friendship is reflected in our brain waves, our genomes, and our cardiovascular and immune systems; its opposite, loneliness, can kill. At long last, social connection is recognized as critical to wellness and longevity.
With insight and warmth, Denworth weaves past and present, field biology and neuroscience, to show how our bodies and minds are designed for friendship across life stages, the processes by which healthy social bonds are developed and maintained, and how friendship is changing in the age of social media. Blending compelling science, storytelling, and a grand evolutionary perspective, Denworth delineates the essential role that cooperation and companionship play in creating human (and nonhuman) societies.
Friendship illuminates the vital aspects of friendship, both visible and invisible, and offers a refreshingly optimistic vision of human nature. It is a clarion call for putting positive relationships at the center of our lives.
About the Author
Lydia Denworth is the author of Friendship, I Can Hear You Whisper, and Toxic Truth, and a contributing editor for Scientific American and blogger for Psychology Today. Her work is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and she lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Critical and convincing... Denworth’s work achieves the best of science writing by making complicated concepts clear. She uses intelligent observation, empathy, and curiosity to offer a friendship manifesto that will absolutely affect readers' own personal approaches to friendship.
In addition to examining the scientific underpinnings of friendship, Denworth capably demonstrates how loneliness...is truly a health- and life-threatening condition, and there are things to be done to avoid it. Convincing evidence that evolution endowed us with a need for friends, support, comfort, stimulation, and, ultimately, happiness.
Denworth draws several striking conclusions...[Friendship] provide[s] an effective introduction to its subject.
The power of friendship—in many ways the most essential of our relationships—has long been underestimated. It's an absolute pleasure to see Lydia Denworth do it justice in this lovely, insightful, and important book.
— Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Poison Squad
Friendship was once mocked as a naive notion, irrelevant in our species and nonexistent in others. In her lively, personable style, Lydia Denworth reviews what we know about the benefits of close relationships and their long evolutionary history
— Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug
The science of friendship has grown remarkably rich in recent years, with scientists studying everything from the chemicals that create bonds in our brains to the friendships animals make for years on end. There's a deep evolutionary story to friendship now, and Lydia Denworth tells it in clear, lyrical prose.
— Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother's Laugh
A sweeping, precise, and engaging narrative about our primordial capacity for friendship. If you care about what really matters in life, read this fantastic natural history of human friendship.
— Nicholas A. Christakis, author of Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society
I can think of no better rebuke to today’s success-obsessed brand of parenting than Denworth’s clarion call for friendship. Her convincing narration of the science shows that for our kids to live happily ever after, and successfully too, we must let them spend many more afternoons with friends.
— Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult