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Mike Mariani

Mike is a writer and journalist based in the DC area, and the author of What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us, published in August 2022 by Penguin Random House. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times T Magazine, The Guardian, Slate, and many other publications. 

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us

Mike's first book, What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us, is a work of narrative nonfiction focused on six people whose lives were capsized by trauma and tragedy. From devastating car accidents to long-term incarceration to traumatic brain injuries, these individuals endured some of the most harrowing experiences a person can face. His book seeks to examine and explain how they changed in the years and decades following these before-and-after events. 

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Featured Articles

The Curious Afterlife of a Brain Trauma Survivor

Sophie Papp and her family had a ritual for the recently departed. Whenever a relative died, she and her brother and cousins would all squeeze into a car and drive to Koksilah River, an hour north of their homes in Victoria, British Columbia. There, they would spend the day swimming in the glassy jade water, letting the current drag them along the squishy riverbed and gazing at the native arbutus trees, whose red bark peeled like crinkly snakeskin. After her grandmother passed away, Sophie—a swe

The great gaslighting: how Covid longhaulers are still fighting for recognition

Before the coronavirus pandemic swept through New York City like a foaming white storm surge in the spring of 2020 and irrevocably displaced the trajectory of her life, Hannah Davis was an expert in artificial intelligence and machine learning. She gave talks on her projects, which included working with a computer program that generated music from literature, at Ted conferences, technology expos, even the Library of Congress.

Toward the end of March 2020, as the first wave was gathering speed a

The New Generation of Self-Created Utopias (Published 2020)

East Wind is what its 72 residents call an intentional community, a modern descendant of the utopian colonies and communes of centuries past where individuals share everything from meals, chores and living space to work, income, domestic responsibilities and the burden of self-governance. The term intentional community dates to the late 1940s, when the Inter-Community Exchange — an organization formed in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in the wake of World War II to help promote peaceful, cooperative livi

A Town for People with Chronic-Fatigue Syndrome

In December of 2012, I came down with what at first looked like a bad case of mononucleosis. I felt tired and had a sore throat, a cough, and a slight fever. At the time, I was twenty-six and working as an adjunct English professor at a small college in Westchester, New York. It was Christmas break, so I thought that I would sleep it off and feel better by the New Year. But over the next few months my symptoms grew to include muscle pain, migraines, and occasional vertigo. The cough went away bu

The Would-Be Terrorist vs. the FBI

It was December 2010, and 26-year-old Matthew Llaneza felt like the walls were closing in on him. He'd been discharged from the Marines after a month, for chronic asthma, and he was living with his grandparents in a one-floor stucco house in Mesa, Arizona. The city of just under a half million people sits 20 miles east of Phoenix and is surrounded by the Sonoran Desert, a vast swath of dry, rugged terrain whose towering cacti and craggy, sun-bleached rock formations stretch deep into Mexico. Alt

American Exorcism

Priests are fielding more requests than ever for help with demonic possession, and a centuries-old practice is finding new footing in the modern world.

Louisa Muskovits appeared to be having a panic attack. It was March of 2016, and Louisa, a 33-year-old with a history of alcohol abuse, was having a regular weekly session with her chemical-dependency counselor in Tacoma, Washington.

Louisa had recently separated from her husband, Steven. When the counselor asked about her marriage, she said sh

Promethea Unbound

For Georgia Smith, home was a beat-up red Plymouth Voyager minivan with a bad engine block. A Greek immigrant in her early forties, she had been evicted from her San Francisco apartment in the fall of 1996. Georgia didn’t want anyone to alert social services that she and her daughter Jasmine were destitute, so for several months they’d been living as nomads. She shuttled the five-year-old around the city by day before finding a parking lot where they could spend the night. They never stayed in o

The neuroscience of inequality: does poverty show up in children's brains?

With its bright colours, anthropomorphic animal motif and nautical-themed puzzle play mat, Dr Kimberly Noble’s laboratory at Columbia University in New York looks like your typical day-care centre – save for the team of cognitive neuroscientists observing kids from behind a large two-way mirror.

The Neurocognition, Early Experience and Development Lab is home to cutting-edge research on how poverty affects young brains, and I’ve come here to learn how Noble and her colleagues could soon definit

How income inequality is messing with kids' brains

With its bright colors, anthropomorphic animal motif, and nautical-themed puzzle play mat, Dr. Kimberly Noble’s laboratory at Columbia University looks like your typical day care center—save for the team of cognitive neuroscientists observing kids from behind a large two-way mirror. The Neurocognition, Early Experience, and Development Lab is home to cutting-edge research on how poverty affects young brains, and I’ve come here to learn how Noble and her colleagues could soon definitively prove t

How Nostalgia Made America Great Again

ake America great again. Clearly the message resonated. In 2016, prior to the presidential election, the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan group, published its annual American Values Survey. It revealed 51 percent of the population felt the American way of life had changed for the worse since the 1950s. Further, 7 in 10 likely Donald Trump voters said American society has gotten worse since that romanticized decade.

Of course America today has its problems, but many indices of s

Is Trump’s Chaos Tornado a Move From the Kremlin’s Playbook?

On March 12, 2014, the Russian author Natan Dubovitsky published a short story titled “Without Sky” in the literary journal Russian Pioneer. In the story, which takes place in a dystopian future, a man recalls the events of the fifth World War, decades earlier. He describes these events as the first “non-linear war.” Instead of fighting in a traditional sense, as a battle between two sides, World War V was a more byzantine conflict. Multiple nations all fought one another at once and could switc

Meticulous Gloom

Charles Dickens used to spend Sunday afternoons at the Paris morgue, staring at dead bodies. In The Uncommercial Traveler, he describes the “invisible force” that “drags” him to the morgue whenever he passes through the city. In his diaries he recounts visiting on Christmas and New Year’s Day, studying newly arrived corpses as water dripped from the ceiling onto their bloated visages, delaying decomposition. On one visit, he observes custodians bringing in a newly arrived corpse, surrounded by a

How Did Two All-Americans Fall In With ISIS?

On a 90-degree day in August 2015, two FBI agents arrived at the house of Oda and Lisa Dakhlalla in Starkville, Mississippi. Oda, originally from the West Bank, was active at the mosque just across the street from their home. He also tutored Mississippi State students in calculus and trigonometry, earning him the nickname Yoda. For years the couple ran the family's restaurant, Scheherazade's, named after the ingenious storyteller in One Thousand and One Nights. Lisa, a Muslim convert who grew up

Alone in the Jungle

About halfway through Disney’s remake of its own 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Kaa, the enormous rock python voiced with seductive sibilance by Scarlett Johansson, lulls our hero, Mowgli, into a kind of punch-drunk hypnosis in which he sees how he came to be the lone man-cub in the jungle. His father is mauled to death by the imperious tiger, Shere Khan, thus sending Mowgli spiraling into orphanhood, which simultaneously leaves him both impossibly vulnerable and utterly a

The Vast and Surreal Influence of David Lynch

It would be tough to look at the roster of television shows any given season without finding several that owe a creative debt to Twin Peaks, the short-lived ABC series created by the filmmaker David Lynch. Lynch’s manipulation of the uncanny, his surreal non-sequiturs, his black humor, and his trademark ominous tracking shots can be felt in a variety of contemporary hit shows, from The Sopranos to Lost, even if few manage to combine all these elements to such hypnotic effect. Twin Peaks, which w

Why So Many White American Men Are Dying

Updated | Not too long after the Soviet flag was hauled down from the Kremlin, a startling number of Russian men started dying. Young and middle-age men began to drown, get run over and suffer asphyxiation and heart attacks in shocking numbers. There were all manner of suspicious, gruesome deaths, the details of which suggested alcohol abuse and suicide. The life expectancy for Russian men was plummeting; between 1986 and 1996, it dropped from 65 to 57.

For years it was a source of great perple

The Tragic, Forgotten History of Zombies

In the original script for 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, the director George A. Romero refers to his flesh-eating antagonists as “ghouls.” Although the film is widely credited with launching zombies into the cultural zeitgeist, it wasn’t until its follow-up 10 years later, the consumerist nightmare Dawn of the Dead, that Romero would actually use the term. While making the first film, Romero understood zombies instead to be the undead Haitian slaves depicted in the 1932 Bela Lugosi horror fil

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