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Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  4,466 ratings  ·  599 reviews
A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness - the 'light within' that Julia Baird calls 'phosphorescence' - which will sustain us even through the darkest times.

Over the last decade, we have become better at knowing what brings us contentment, well-being and joy. We know, f
...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published March 23rd 2020 by 4th Estate
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Average rating 3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,466 ratings  ·  599 reviews


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Start your review of Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark
PattyMacDotComma
UPDATE - winner of 2021 ABIA Book of the Year and best non-fiction! [Australian Book Industry Awards]
4.5★
“In one study of American and Chinese people, Keltner found that after experiencing awe, people signed their names in tinier letters. He told ‘New Scientist’ magazine that the reason for this is that 'awe produces a vanishing self.”


I’m not a reader of self-help, self-improvement, self-awareness, self-anything books. I quite like the idea that “awe produces a vanishing self.” I remember hearin
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Jules
May 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Didn’t wow me. This is basically an overview of the rudimentary things everyone already knows regarding being a somewhat functioning human (which is not as mysterious or elusive as the evocative title suggests), with some personal “there is room for every woman to win”-esque essays thrown in. Baird talks about lightness but neglects the darkness and this book suffers for it. I’m really not into this trend of journos writing thinly veiled memoirs/pseudo self help books with a few scientific refer ...more
Bianca
I was somewhat apprehensive to read this - it was lauded by too many people, and I sort of feared it would be mawkish, self-indulgent and, worse, spiritual (whatever that means, I'm still vague on the definition). I'm so happy to say that I ate this audiobook up, I didn't even skip the chapter on faith and religion. Julia Baird's writing captivated me from the very first page. She came across as genuine, non-preachy, not a know-it-all while also being very knowledgeable and interested in lots of ...more
Donna
May 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
Started so strongly but began to lose me with the self-indulgent letter to daughter, advice to son and repetitive stories of her own life. Sorry!
Justine
May 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ibooks, library-books
Mixed feelings about this - there are some moments of beautiful writing, but overall this reads like the memoir of a privileged white woman...not what I was expecting.
Madeline
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was super excited when I saw this available on NetGalley and was delighted to receive and advance copy. I just adored "Victoria" - it was a spectacular book, so I was hopeful that Phosphorescence would be what I needed during these dark pandemic times.

But, I just couldn't get into it. Julia Baird writes beautifully, however, I struggled to appreciate the direction of the book. Every chapter felt like a bit of a slog and I had to push myself to finish it.

Despite this, Phosphorescence kept me th
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Dayle
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was not what I expected, though I cannot be clear on what those expectations were. There were times I was gripped, with Baird’s writing washing over me and instilling peace and calm - and awe. Then there were times I rolled my eyes at what felt like grandstanding or a obstinately rose coloured take. This book is a gentle book that encourages you to pause and consider. There are no great revelations but it is a nice reminder to draw out what’s important in your life and to take notice.
Jaclyn
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you (like me) are put off when books are labelled as "self-help," please still give this book a go. I admittedly was not sure it would be for me, though the promise of optimism and awe during the pandemic lockdown were enough of a nudge for me to put a library hold on this audiobook.

I'm not entirely sure how I'd describe this book as it does a few things - it is memoir in the sense that Baird shares alot about her own life experiences including academic pursuits (hello, fellow history/law gra
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Renee
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it
I would give this book 3.5 stars if possible. While I loved parts of the book (her personal stories, learning about bioluminescence, and her beloved cuttlefish), others bored me and felt too instructive or soapboxey. I agree with her views but I thought it would be a different kind of book. I was expecting more of a journalistic exploration but though parts of it were that, she also writes a letter to her daughter and gives advice to her son. At times I felt it less than cohesive, more a series ...more
Tundra
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
DNF I gave up at 50%. I failed to connect with this book. The essays seemed disjointed and didn’t really reveal anything that seemed remarkable, unusual or particularly interesting. I’m not sure if the memoir/self help combination really worked. I also felt it tried to give advice from a middle class privileged perspective which I felt uncomfortable with.
Rachel
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, 2020
I received an ARC of this book with thanks to HarperCollins Publishers Australia, 4th Estate via NetGalley.

I don't know if it's possible that this book could've come at a more poignant moment for society. It has definitely been an eventful 2020 for Australia and not for the affirming reasons we've become accustomed to.

"Being awestruck dwarfs us, humbles us, makes us aware we are part of a universe unfathomably larger than ourselves; it even, social scientists say makes us kinder and more aware o
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Lou
May 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Phosphorescence is a deeply personal exploration of what can sustain us through our darkest moments complete with dazzling prose and real heart and soul. We know what it feels like to be happy, content and at peace. When we feel this way we seek out life’s experiences with a sense of optimism and hope. But what do we do when confronted by the muck of our daily existence, or when our world feels out of control? Is it possible to access a light – our own source of phosphorescence – that can ward o ...more
Laura
May 18, 2020 rated it liked it
This book started off very well, but ultimately dissolved into a series of largely unconnected musings about life. By the second half, I found that it started to drag. I would have been just as happy reading the first of the four parts - which I really enjoyed - or just a few extracts.

It is however one of the most physically beautifully books that I own and is a pleasure to hold and have.
Daisy
Apr 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is wrong to ponder whether Julia Baird knew that the world would be thrown into disarray when this book came out. I believe she is an amazing author and incredibly clever, but a book this well researched and written could not have been completed since the start of the Coronavirus. Consider it another reason for awe and wonder, this book is perfect for our times. I especially loved Julia’s explanation of her faith, similar to my own, her fight for women, and that she shared her struggles and j ...more
hayls 🐴
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion, australian
This book is full of joy and awe. So many books in the “”getting through adversity” self-help genre sometimes focus a lot on someone’s own struggle with adversity and may only touch on the recovery or light towards the end, sometimes in a very preachy, do-this-and-you’ll-be-happier kind of fashion. Phosphorescence instead draws our attention to the light within us all, even in the midst of darkness. Julia’s struggles with cancer are mentioned in a couple of chapters (a topic which can be trigger ...more
Al Bità
Jan 31, 2021 rated it liked it
The sub-title for this book essentially spells out what this book is all about: “On awe, wonder & things that sustain you when the world goes dark”.

Baird uses extensive personal experiences as the basis for her suggestions on looking for and cherishing more or less anything which can be used to lift one’s spirits when feeling down, and backs up her findings by brief but extensive cross-references on a global scale. As well as a Prelude and a Coda, Baird’s stories and research are presented in fo
...more
Christine
Jun 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
There was very little about this book I enjoyed. I forced myself to finish this book for my book club. Otherwise, I would have put it down.

My most frequent thought was that the author comes across as arrogant. She sounds to have had a privileged life (excluding health issues) and talks about her time in New York, Morocco and Nepal, and the famous / powerful people she can call up without an introduction and 'nek minit' they're best friends. I could not relate to her life.

I found it really hard
...more
Helen
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The release of this book could not be more well timed with all that is currently going on in the world. Here author Julia Baird sheds light on seeking enjoyment through the little things in life, purposefully recognising moments of awe that will assist in providing a move to mindfulness and acknowledgment of our place in the universe. She claims this book to be a ‘salve’ by finding the small things that keep one afloat in times of hardship, by seeking the comforts that keep you going.

‘... the an
...more
Nick
Feb 14, 2021 rated it liked it
My life sometimes feels like a constant battle against a consuming sense of ironic detachment. I want to be someone who is earnest, and who cares about things. But I also know that in the presence of a sentimentalist I have to be on constant guard against my listless eye rolls and cynical takes from sneaking out. While this book activated this inner conflict in me, at times I did feel genuinely inspired by Baird's writings. I also felt a kinship with Baird as someone who, perhaps against their b ...more
Robert Manning
Not a book for me. I started skimming about 5 pages in. It reminded me of other vacuous books that try not to be self help but really are...Eat Pray Love etc. Self indulgent and privileged she skates over any real anguish and offers glib remedies for the lost and depressed.
Madeline
Jan 20, 2021 rated it did not like it
An insufferably self-indulgent memoir disguised as a shallow self-help book.

Basically, the book went something like this:
If you’re poor, you can go fuck yourself.
If you take refuge in small things, like Instagram or TV, you’re wasting your life.
If you don’t want to talk to strangers on public transport, you’re rude etc. etc.

Just let people enjoy things!

I struggled to finish this book. Not worth your time.
Elizabeth
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Phosphorescence by Julia Baird ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The theme of this extremely well written book is ‘awe, wonder and things when the world goes dark’. How totally appropriate is this right now when so many of us in our community are experiencing some form of darkness and finding it hard to see the light. For me this book is perfectly timed after experiencing a year of ill health of a loved one and now on a bigger scale the onslaught and effects of the corona virus.

Julia Baird who has already published an e
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Paul
Jun 01, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
Life has been tough for lots of people over the past 18 months. The pandemic has affected people in all sorts of ways, The first lockdown was a bit of a novelty, but as the pandemic ebbed and flowed it became harder for many people. Being emotionally distraught has always been there though as we try to deal with the things that life throws at us daily or even hourly basis.

We sometimes know the things that make us happy, but those moments are often transitory, a brief internal warm feeling from h
...more
Rosemary Atwell
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
Although rambling, this book really moves into its own when the author shares her physical and emotional journey with cancer. Otherwise, it’s an odd combination of self-help and discovery with many life lessons to be taken on board. Not fabulous, but intriguing.
Bianca Jagoe
Oct 14, 2020 rated it liked it
I had some nice take aways from this book - there were lovely moments that were inspiring and thought provoking and I wrote down a lot of quotes by other writers who JB referenced. It started off well - I loved the ocean swimming, the personal anecdotes and scientific background and references to phosphorescence. As it progressed it felt a bit stream-of-consciousness or lacking in cohesiveness or direction and it took me a long time to finish because it often just felt like disjointed musings of ...more
Kate Littlejohn
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It’s been a few days since I finished Phosphorescence and I can’t stop thinking about it. It is so beautifully written, heartfelt and open. I initially gave it 4* as I became a little ‘lost’ in the middle, but I think that was just me. This book is like a meditation. Don’t approach it as an autobiography or a memoir, I see it more as a gentle reminder of the Awesomeness around us, we just need to open our eyes and see it. Different people will find Awe in different things, and at different times ...more
Kolumbina
May 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Chloe
I liked this book but there was nothing particularly eye opening or inspiring for me personally. Also, there was a fair amount of ‘Christ’ talk, which always makes me roll my eyes uncontrollably.
Dee Slattery
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I was eating this book up from the first page. Dr Baird is a beautiful writer, and I was captivated not only by her personal journey, but the depth of her research as she cleverly intertwined history with what we know today. She is non-preachy, relatable, and her fight for equality for women made me like her even more. This book is a fantastic reminder of what is important - nature, belonging, purpose, and shared joy. I highly recommend this book!
Diane Challenor
This book is filled with beautiful thinking, filled with gratitude, and filled with goodness. It's a collection of short articles; each article can be read in one sitting. I've given this book as a gift to two of my step-children so they too can discover the treasure within it's covers. It's beautifully presented, and the layout makes reading easy. It's one to be dipped into every now and then, and looks inviting sitting on our bookshelf alongside our "special" books. ...more
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STEMMinist Book Club: Discussion questions 8 40 Jun 30, 2020 06:33PM  
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Julia Baird is a journalist, broadcaster and author based in Sydney, Australia. She hosts The Drum on ABCTV and writes columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and the International New York Times. Her writing has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Guardian, the Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun-Herald, The Monthly and Harper’s Bazaar.

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