This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers (Hardcover)

This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers By Jeff Sharlet Cover Image

This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers (Hardcover)

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A visionary work of radical empathy.


Known for immersion journalism that is more immersed than most people are willing to go, and for a prose style that is somehow both fierce and soulful, Jeff Sharlet dives deep into the darkness around us and awaiting us.


This work began when his father had a heart attack; two years later, Jeff, still in his forties, had a heart attack of his own. In the grip of writerly self-doubt, Jeff turned to images, taking snapshots and posting them on Instagram, writing short, true stories that bloomed into documentary. During those two years, he spent a lot of time on the road: meeting strangers working night shifts as he drove through the mountains to see his father; exploring the life and death of Charley Keunang, a once-aspiring actor shot by the police on LA’s Skid Row; documenting gay pride amidst the violent homophobia of Putin’s Russia; passing time with homeless teen addicts in Dublin; and accompanying a lonely woman, whose only friend was a houseplant, on shopping trips.


Early readers have called this book “incantatory,” the voice “prophetic,” in “James Agee’s tradition of looking at the reality of American lives.” Defined by insomnia and late-night driving and the companionship of other darkness-dwellers—night bakers and last-call drinkers, frightened people and frightening people, the homeless, the lost (or merely disoriented), and other people on the margins—This Brilliant Darkness erases the boundaries between author, subject, and reader to ask: how do people live with suffering?



Jeff Sharlet is the New York Times best-selling author or editor of eight books, including The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, adapted into a Netflix documentary series, and This Brilliant Darkness. His reporting on LGBTIQ+ rights around the world has received the National Magazine Award, the Molly Ivins Prize, and Outright International’s Outspoken Award. His writing and photography have appeared in many publications, including Vanity Fair, for which he is a contributing editor; the New York Times Magazine; GQ; Esquire; Harper’s; and VQR, for which he is an editor at large. He is the Frederick Sessions Beebe ’35 Professor in the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College, where he lives in the woods with many animals.
Product Details ISBN: 9781324003205
ISBN-10: 1324003200
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: February 11th, 2020
Pages: 336
Language: English
A luminous, moving and visual record of fleeting moments of connection.
— New York Times Book Review

Sharlet's haunting photos accompany clipped, pointillist, but expressive prose that evokes character and tragedy...The result is a triumph of visual and written storytelling, both evocative and moving.
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Sharlet provides a poignant and wholly intimate portrait of the lives of those who are often overlooked in our society, breathing a sense of humanity in a part of our world that is so often inhumane. A highly recommended book that is at times difficult to take in and difficult to put down.
— Library Journal (starred review)

One of the most beautiful works I’ve ever read. This Brilliant Darkness is dazzling and addictive, a constellation of stories about how we love before we die. This book breathes.

— Blair Braverman, author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube

A phenomenally original book that will press into your chest about as deeply as literature can go. Sharlet is his generation’s Steinbeck.
— Timothy Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till

Propelled and sustained by Sharlet’s crystalline attention and his electric voice, at once bold and precise, this stunning book will stay in me for good.
— Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

This book of photographs and extended captions becomes a gallery of souls, and somehow, by patient accretion, a guidebook to staying human in the panopticon. It speaks back to the deafening noise of our moment with quiet power.
— John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

This Brilliant Darkness embodies what it invites—real consideration and reconsideration of our own company, what we fellow travelers do and do not share. Jeff Sharlet suggestively notes that our unreliable bodies are their own unreliable narrators. He has put his own on the line. Spend time with him there.

— Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family

Bless Jeff Sharlet for not walking away, but sharing his humanity by bridging the deadly gap of isolation with love.
— Terry Tempest Williams, author of Erosion: Essays of Undoing

[This Brilliant Darkness] shines like a fire in the night: It brings us close, lights the darkness, and shows us unseen worlds.

— Michael Lesy, author of Wisconsin Death Trip

Coverage from NPR