Pieces of Light
Pieces of Light is a book about the science and stories of autobiographical memory. It was a science Book of the Year in the Independent, Sunday Times and New Scientist. The podcast Little Atoms picked it as one of its top ten books of 2012. It was also a Christmas pick in the Sunday Express. In the US, the book was Editors' Choice for w/c 19 March at the iBookstore, and was a PW Pick in Publishers Weekly.
The book was shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books, the Best Book of Ideas Prize and the Society of Biology Book Awards. It has been translated into Spanish, Czech and Turkish.
You can see me read from and talk about the book in this film made for the Royal Society prize:
'Pieces of Light is utterly fascinating and superbly written. I learned more about memory from this book than any other. There are few science books around of this class.' Guardian
'Thoughtful… a deft guide to discoveries that have led memory researchers to stress the centrality of storytelling.' Booklist
'As absorbing as it is thought-provoking.' Sunday Business Post
'Remarkable storytelling skills... Seamlessly intersperses the personal aspects of [his] journey with descriptions of cutting-edge research into spatial naviation and memory manipulation, as well as new ideas about how memory works.' Moheb Costandi, Scientific American MIND
'With elegance and clinical sympathy, Fernyhough tells the stories of patients with various forms of brain damage that result in amnesia... a good, accessible read for anyone interested in their own recollections.' Professor Steven Rose, BBC Focus Magazine
'Durham University professor Charles Fernyhough offers an absorbing guidebook to the mysterious terrain of human memory with his second nonfiction work, Pieces of Light. In the tradition of Oliver Sacks' casually shrewd scientific writing, the book blends dispatches from the frontiers of science with compassionate human anecdotes. Although this exploration never shies away from formidable science and challenging psychological concepts (like contextual "flashbulb memories," which can be startlingly vivid and completely false), Fernyhough reinforces his lessons with elegant personal memoirs and pop-culture references. (Harry Potter, Princess Diana, and Andy Warhol all make cameos.) For a topic so elusive—discussed in methods that range from the allegorical "crazy woman" to the brain's mysterious mechanics—Fernyhough's enthralling narrative delivers gripping insight on the way memories shape our lives.' Editors' Choice for w/c 19 March, iBookstore
'In its stunning blend of the literary with the scientific, Pieces of Light illuminates ordinary and extraordinary stories to remind us that who we are now has everything to do with who we were once, and that identity itself is intricately rooted in transporting moments of remembrance. We are what we remember.' André Aciman, author of Out of Egypt and Harvard Square
'While the fragility of memory is well-documented, Fernyhough doesn't leave its quirky strengths unexamined.' Psychology Today
'Blends up-to-date science with literature and personal stories, providing an illuminating look at human memory—the way we remember and forget.' Publishers Weekly Spring 2013 Announcements
'His examination [is] welcoming and accessible to lay readers. His analysis is wide-ranging... He also covers a wide swath of literary and historical ground... A refreshingly social take on an intensely personal experience.' Publishers Weekly
'A multidisciplinary approach to explaining memory... Will be intriguing for readers interested in the borderlands where memoir, fiction and science overlap.' Kirkus Reviews
'In this lyrical exploration of our powers of recall, psychologist and novelist Charles Fernyhough argues that our memories are worth cherishing - even though some of what we think we remember is, in fact, fiction.' New Scientist Books of the Year
'In Pieces of Light, Charles Fernyhough has had the arresting idea of writing a book about memory that is also a memoir. As a psychologist clearly well up on the latest research, he shows how memory itself relies on language and storytelling. Investigating his own memories with a writerly eye, he brings to vibrant life scenes from a childhood refreshingly free of misery.' Sunday Times Books of the Year
'Outstanding… Fernyhough’s skills as a writer are evident both in the beautiful prose and in the way he uses literature to illustrate his argument… He draws on both science and art to marvellous effect.' Observer
'Exhilarating… Most strikingly Fernyhough breaks free from the “silo mentality” separating science and art… makes a compelling case that memory “allows us to ‘see’ time”, something of what happened then and of who we are today, albeit through what he delightfully calls its “slippery charms”.' TLS
'An immense pleasure… Restrained and lyrical… shines new light on the reader’s own life.' New Scientist
'A sophisticated blend of findings from science, ideas from literature and examples from personal narratives… refreshing, well judged and at times moving. This is an unusual book but a very rewarding one.' Times Higher Education
'Tells stories to explore the deepest nature of memory, and does it beautifully… In his hybrid of autobiography, journalism and pop psychology, Fernyhough lets the stories speak for themselves to highlight memory’s personal, subjective and fragile qualities. Fernyhough takes us on a captivating journey into the mind. And he does so with great style.' Telegraph
'Fernyhough deftly guides us through memory’s many facets… Often using himself as a test case, he adds context with research and snippets from a raft of great writers. A thoughtful study of how we make sense of ourselves.' Nature
'A fascinating snapshot of where our thinking stands on the subject.' Independent
'Absorbing… In offering us a meditation on memory, Fernyhough has something important to say about one of the forces that is central to our lives.' The Lady
'Fernyhough is a gifted writer who can turn any experience into lively prose… The stories in Pieces of Light… will entertain anyone who reads them.' Financial Times
'Many popular science writers try to blend the autobiographical and the anecdotal into their work; few do it as seamlessly and successfully as Charles Fernyhough.' Blackwell’s Book Podcasts
'Fernyhough argues that we don’t simply possess a memory; we reconstruct it anew every time we need to remember… Through his own experiences and those of others, from the very young to the very old, he explores the mystery of remembering and the ambiguity of forgetting.' Saga Magazine
'An enthralling investigation of that ‘thing’ we call memory… manages to write about complex things in a clear and understandable way.' Ian McMillan, The Verb
‘Combining the engaging style of a novelist with the rigor of a scientist, Charles Fernyhough has written an insightful and thought provoking meditation on the nature of memory and its implications for our everyday lives. Pieces of Light will both linger in your memory and change the way you think about it.’ Daniel L. Schacter, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Seven Sins of Memory.
‘A beautifully written, absorbing read—a fascinating journey through the latest science of memory.’ Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine.
‘Both playful and profound, a wonderfully memorable read.’ Douwe Draaisma, Professor of History of Psychology, University of Groningen, and author of Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older.
‘Fernyhough weaves literature and science to expose our rich, beautiful relationship with our past and future selves.’ David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.
I have written several features recently on the topic of memory:
My article for the Daily Beast, How to Remember the Past, was published recently.
This article for the Guardian was part of a special supplement on memory published in January 2012.
Also part of the memory special supplement, this article looks at how our memories are shaped by other people.
This article for the Guardian describes my interviews with my grandmother about her memories.
This article for the Guardian explores children's memories for lost grandparents.
In this article for the FT, I looked at how children's memories are affected by their exposure to digital technologies.
This Observer piece celebrates the unreliability of memory.