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?
In the beginning there was Tilly: fabulous and free, outrageous and untamable, vulnerable and terrified. As a young woman, she flees home for the hollow neon underworld of Nevada, looking for pure souls and finding nothing but bad habits. Decades later, after eventually drinking herself to the brink of death, her niece shows up on the doorstep of her dusty trailer.
At a remote military base in the Pacific Northwest, Navy sonar technicians hear a confounding sound. It is the voice of a whale, but one that sings at a frequency - 52 hertz - never before heard by scientists, and inaudible to other members of its species. The whale seems to be alone in the Pacific Ocean, unable to communicate with its kind.