The Book of Calamities

Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning


By Peter Trachtenberg

Formats and Prices




$53.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover $42.00 $53.00 CAD
  2. ebook $12.99 $16.99 CAD

What does it mean to suffer? What enables some people to emerge from tragedy while others are spiritually crushed by it? Why do so many Americans think of suffering as something that happens to other people — who usually deserve it? These are some of the questions at the heart of this powerful book.

Combining reportage, personal narrative, and moral philosophy, Peter Trachtenberg tells the stories of grass-roots genocide tribunals in Rwanda and tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, an innocent man on death row, and a family bereaved on 9/11. He examines texts from the Book of Job to the Bodhicharyavatara and the writings of Simone Weil.

The Book of Calamities is a provocative and sweeping look at one of the biggest paradoxes of the human condition — and the surprising strength and resilience of those who are forced to confront it.


  • [Starred Review] "Writing movingly about victims and survivors of natural disasters, war, genocide, domestic violence, addiction, illness, suicide and injustice, Trachtenberg deftly intermingles their stories with observations from religion, philosophy and literature....The Book of Calamities, like Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon, succeeds because it asks the right questions, calls on the experience of articulate witnesses and--through skillful narrative and trenchant observation--beguiles the reader into facing heartbreaking reality."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Frank and urgent....Trachtenberg raises complex questions about justice, malice, compassion, blame, self-pity, personal responsibility, faith, and doubt....He harvests wisdom from the likes of Primo Levi, Siddhartha, and Simone Weil, from Aeschylus's Oresteia and the book of Job."
    Cathleen Medwick, O, The Oprah Magazine

On Sale
Aug 27, 2008
Page Count
464 pages

Peter Trachtenberg

About the Author

Peter Trachtenberg is the author of The Book of Calamities and 7 Tattoos: A Memoir in the Flesh. He is the recipient of Whiting Writers Award, a Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, and a Bellagio Residency. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

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