The Examined Life

‘This book is about change.’

We are all storytellers – we make stories to make sense of our lives. But it is not enough to tell tales. There must be someone to listen.

An extraordinary book for anyone eager to understand the hidden motives that shape our lives.

We are all storytellers—we create stories to make sense of our lives. But it is not enough to tell tales. There must be someone to listen.

In his work as a practicing psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz has spent the last twenty-five years uncovering the hidden feelings behind our most baffling behavior. The Examined Life distils more than 50,000 hours of conversation into pure psychological insight without the jargon.

This extraordinary book is about one ordinary process: talking, listening, and understanding. Its aphoristic and elegant stories teach us a new kind of attentiveness. They also unveil a delicate self-portrait of the analyst at work and show how lessons learned in the consulting room can reveal as much to the analyst as to the patient.

These are stories about our everyday lives: they are about the people we love and the lies we tell, the changes we bear and the grief. Ultimately, they show us not only how we lose ourselves but also how we might find ourselves.


Reviews of “The Examined Life”

MICHIKO KAKUTANI – New York Times (read the full review here)

The Examined Life … shares the best literary qualities of Freud’s most persuasive work. It is … an insightful and beautifully written book … a series of slim, piercing chapters that read like a combination of Chekhov and Oliver Sacks. [A] deeply affecting book…”

Joshua Rothman – New Yorker (read the full review here)

“An elegant, unfussy writer, [Grosz] compresses years of analysis into short chapters that feel like minimalist, suspenseful detective stories. At the end of each story, a secret is revealed; often, it’s a secret which you’ve also kept.”

Amelia Lester, New Yorker

“[A] gem…. While you could devour the whole thing in an afternoon, there’s much to digest about the way we tell ourselves stories, and about how the way we narrate our own lives winds up shaping what they become.”

Kate Tuttle – Boston Globe

“Grosz tells stories in spare, gentle prose — his compassion for his patients is palpable, and constant, on these pages — the result is a sense of shared humanity, understanding and even hope.”

Midwest Book Review

“Packed with insights on everyday life… An inspirational pick that will find its way not only into psychology collections, but into the hearts and lives of everyday readers.”

Maria Popova,

“Invariably profound and often provocative.”

Dan Barrett,

“The Examined Life is a joy from start to finish. I can’t think of a reader who wouldn’t benefit from the insights Stephen Grosz presents.”

Micah Toub – Globe and Mail

Writing with an elegance and poignancy that would make Raymond Carver envious…  as The Examined Life shows, whatever comes out, the richness of any person’s honest story of adversity makes mere happiness pale in comparison.

Emma Brockes —Salon

“The writing is taut, aphoristic but specific – Michiko Kakutani likened it to Chekhov, with good cause…. There’s woe in The Examined Life and yet you came away feeling ignited and consoled.”


“Lucid, beautifully written and jargon-free.”

Dinah Loon – Nature

“This beautifully written collection of stories … will cut close to the bone… from loneliness and change to loss and lies, we discover personal histories of damage understood but not always healed. These compressed analyses are filled with … empathy and are described accessibly…”

Michael Holroyd – The Spectator

“Engaging, frank, and with many penetrating insights. His short, succinct chapters have both the tension and the satisfaction of miniature detective or mystery stories. . . . A stimulating book.”

Melissa Katsoulis – The Times

“Brilliant. . . . After reading [Grosz’s] absorbing accounts of his patients’ journeys you might feel that The Examined Life ought to be given out free at birth.”

Robert Collins – Sunday Times

“Grosz’s vignettes are so brilliantly put together that they read like pieces of bare, illuminating fiction. . . . It is this combination of tenacious detective work, remarkable compassion and sheer, unending curiosity for the oddities of the human heart that makes these stories utterly captivating.”

Craig Brown – Mail on Sunday (read the full review here)

“Crystal-clear and completely magical…The Examined Life is a book full of troubles, but also of wonders: it shows people trapped by their own mysterious impulses, searching for an escape hatch, and often finding it”

Trisha Andres – Financial Times

“By turns edifying and moving. . . . Grosz offers astute insights into the perplexities of everyday life.”

Alexander Linklater – The Observer   (read the full review here)

[Grosz’s accounts] are shaped like short stories, but true and moving in ways that fiction cannot be. […] Gradually accumulating through his book, Grosz provides, not a definition, but an enactment of the purpose of psychoanalysis, which is both modest and profound.

Mark Crockett – The Scotsman

These “interpretations make fascinating reading, leave you marvelling at the ingenuity of the human subconscious. We are all storytellers, Grosz reminds us – it’s how we make sense of our lives. . . . Grosz’s message is always affirming: if a person can work out what it is that’s driving them, it is possible to change.”

Susanna Rustin – The Guardian

“Excellent… this book arrives like a box of chocolates. Thirty-one elegantly presented chapters which, when you bite into them, each reveals something sweet, rich or crunchy. Every one of these case histories bears repeating. All offer worthwhile insights.”

Jane Clinton – Sunday Express

“Five star review – an intelligent, human and deeply moving book. Grosz is listening for the unspoken and the gaps in between. His book celebrates change and the triumphs and tragedies of humanity”

Jane Shilling – The New Statesman

“Intensely readable… As a reminder of the strangeness of human existence, the myriad ways we find of making ourselves unhappy and the perplexing resourcefulness of the unconscious mind, Grosz’s book is a worthwhile addition to the literature of the examined life.”

Leyla Sanai – The Independent

“Stephen Grosz has condensed thousands of hours of consultations into this gem. . .[he] writes lucidly and with sensitivity, treating his patients with respect…sprinkled with wise reflections….This is highly recommended.”

Anthony Rudolf – The Jewish Chronicle (read the full review here.)

“At the heart of this fine and moving book…is a universal theme which itself is at the heart of human existence: how change involves loss. The tact, patience and understatement, which are particular components of this writer’s wisdom, remind the reader that Grosz’s insights and empathy result from thousands of hours with patients. They are also generated by the mastery ofstructure and language involved in writing a book of this quality.”

John Self – Asylum blog   (read the full review here.)

“That rarest of pleasures: a book I loved, and could recommend to almost anyone.”

Praise for “The Examined Life”

Andrew Solomon, author of “Far From the Tree”

“This book conveys the nuanced complexities of psychoanalysis in deceptively simple human stories. It is written with generosity toward both its subjects and its readers; with authentic wit; and with flashes of profound insight. The novelistic charm of its case histories makes it impossible to put down, butwhile you may read it for entertainment, it will leave you wiser about humanity than you were when you picked it up.”

Patrick McGrath, author of “Asylum”

“Someone in pain enters an analyst’s consulting room, and is paid careful, intelligent attention. The Examined Life is a fascinating collection of quiet stories about very real human predicaments: the listening cure at its best.”

Victoria Hislop, author of “The Thread”

“I couldn’t put this down—I read about other people, but learned about myself at the same time. Real stories can be so much more fascinating than fictional ones, especially with Stephen Grosz.  No preaching, no clichés—just wisdom.”

Ruth Padel, author of “52 Ways of Looking at a Poem”

“A beautifully judged, wonderfully readable book with an unusually clear and kind voice. There is a rare integrity in the writing: no showing off, just honest attention to each trusted relationship. I read the whole thing in one sitting, cover to cover.”

Sophie Hannah, author of “Little Face”

“This gripping book offers psychological solutions to some extremely complex human puzzles and is full of wisdom and insight.”

Book of the Year

The Examined Life has been chosen as one of 2013’s Books of the Year in:

The New York Times (Michiko Kakutani) • Sunday Times (James McConnachie) • Observer (Lisa Appignanesi) • Salon (Emma Brockes) • Mail on Sunday (Craig Brown) • Observer (Lucy Lethbridge)  • goodreads • Bookish • Brain Pickings (Maria Popova) • Globe & Mail • The Bookseller • • Asylum (John Self) • The British Psychological Society • St Columba’s College, Dublin