A landmark exploration of one of the most consequential and mysterious issues of our time: the rise of chronic illness and autoimmune diseases
A silent epidemic of chronic illnesses afflicts tens of millions of Americans: these are diseases that are poorly understood, frequently marginalized, and can go undiagnosed and unrecognized altogether. Renowned writer Meghan O’Rourke delivers a revelatory investigation into this elusive category of “invisible” illness that encompasses autoimmune diseases, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, and now long COVID, synthesizing the personal and the universal to help all of us through this new frontier.
Drawing on her own medical experiences as well as a decade of interviews with doctors, patients, researchers, and public health experts, O’Rourke traces the history of Western definitions of illness, and reveals how inherited ideas of cause, diagnosis, and treatment have led us to ignore a host of hard-to-understand medical conditions, ones that resist easy description or simple cures. And as America faces this health crisis of extraordinary proportions, the populations most likely to be neglected by our institutions include women, the working class, and people of color.
Blending lyricism and erudition, candor and empathy, O’Rourke brings together her deep and disparate talents and roles as critic, journalist, poet, teacher, and patient, synthesizing the personal and universal into one monumental project arguing for a seismic shift in our approach to disease. The Invisible Kingdom offers hope for the sick, solace and insight for their loved ones, and a radical new understanding of our bodies and our health.
From Chloé Cooper Jones—Pulitzer Prize finalist, philosophy professor, Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant recipient—an “exquisite” (Oprah Daily) and groundbreaking memoir about disability, motherhood, and the search for a new way of seeing and being seen.
“I am in a bar in Brooklyn, listening to two men, my friends, discuss whether my life is worth living.”
So begins Chloé Cooper Jones’s bold, revealing account of moving through the world in a body that looks different than most. Jones learned early on to factor “pain calculations” into every plan, every situation. Born with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenesis which affects both her stature and gait, her pain is physical. But there is also the pain of being judged and pitied for her appearance, of being dismissed as “less than.” The way she has been seen—or not seen—has informed her lens on the world her entire life. She resisted this reality by excelling academically and retreating to “the neutral room in her mind” until it passed. But after unexpectedly becoming a mother (in violation of unspoken social taboos about the disabled body), something in her shifts, and Jones sets off on a journey across the globe, reclaiming the spaces she’d been denied, and denied herself.
From the bars and domestic spaces of her life in Brooklyn to sculpture gardens in Rome; from film festivals in Utah to a Beyoncé concert in Milan; from a tennis tournament in California to the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, Jones weaves memory, observation, experience, and aesthetic philosophy to probe the myths underlying our standards of beauty and desirability and interrogates her own complicity in upholding those myths.
“Bold, honest, and superbly well-written” (Andre Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name) Easy Beauty is the rare memoir that has the power to make you see the world, and your place in it, with new eyes.
We recommend that guests wear masks on the night.
Meghan O'Rourke is the author of The Long Goodbye and the poetry collections Sun in Days, Once, and Halflife. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and other awards, she is the editor of The Yale Review. Her writing appears in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and more.
Chloé Cooper Jones is a philosophy professor, journalist, and the author of the memoir Easy Beauty, which was named a best book of 2022 by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, TIME Magazine, and others. She is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant recipient and, in 2020, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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