Book Review: ‘Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude’ by Emily White

Do you ever feel lonely? It’s a difficult thing to admit, isn’t it? We fear that our loneliness comes from some personal defect, one basic unlikability or lack of social skills that prevents us from finding the intimacy we want. In truth, loneliness is a modern epidemic, and one that is particularly common among young adults. In her book Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude, Emily White bravely shares her personal struggle with loneliness alongside piles of research and sociological studies on the topic.

The Loneliness Manifesto

This book is a personal memoir about a four-year period in White’s life when she experienced profound loneliness, in spite of having a fulfilling career and a supportive family. But White also displays an agenda that goes far beyond the usual confines of a memoir. She devotes a great deal of energy to drawing the distinction between depression and loneliness, and makes a case for loneliness to be defined as a disorder in its own right. Loneliness, she says, is often a chronic and self-perpetuating condition, especially among children of divorce who may simultaneously crave and fear intimacy and close connection with others. White advocates for loneliness to be recognized as a separate disorder from depression, and for the condition to receive some government funding and attention. 

A Powerful Case for Loneliness as a Disorder

White builds her case systematically, incorporating a vast amount of research on the topic alongside her personal experiences. The memoir portions of her story are especially poignant and touching. White is masterful and accurate in her descriptions of human despair. Her stories of feeling desperate for intimacy and connection even in the midst of everyday social interactions will resonate with readers. There’s courage in White’s openness about her experiences, and lonely readers will appreciate a frank discussion of the topic that doesn’t seem to blame them for their experiences. “Right now, loneliness is something few people are willing to admit to,” White writes. “There’s no need for this silence, no need for the shame and self-blame it creates.” The idea that loneliness is a disorder will be a new point of view for most people, and White builds a strong case.

Flaws and Imperfections

The book has some serious editorial flaws. White is sometimes redundant in her enthusiasm, making the same points and mentioning the same research over and over until the reader begins flipping past sections that seem repetitious. There are also some annoying “filler phrases” that should have been edited out, such as the overused phrase “…it was as though…” At times, the book reads like a strong first draft. Its readability would have benefitted from some stern editing. 

For Those Who Are Suffering

If you are suffering from loneliness and would like to learn more about the condition, this book will deliver lots of context. Those who feel ashamed or responsible for their loneliness, who feel unlovable and unloved, will find some comfort in White’s theories. However, the book never fully delivers on the promise in its subtitle, to help the reader learn to live with solitude. It is not a practical self-help manual for the lonely.