Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone

A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation

Non-Fiction - Relationships
415 Pages
Reviewed on 07/01/2020
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Author Biography

J. W. Freiberg earned his PhD from UCLA before attending Harvard Law School. For over thirty years Freiberg practiced law at the crossroads of law and psychiatry. Labeled as "the Oliver Sacks of law," Freiberg's books present case stories from his law practice that read like fiction, and each book has earned a five-star rating on Amazon. Reviewers report being unable to put the book down, one mentioning that she took the book along to Paris on her vacation and ended up staying in the hotel room one day to continue reading. Everyone loves a good story, and that exactly what Freiberg produces: irresistibly fascinating tales of the lives of his clients that, taken together, tell us much about the chronic loneliness that stalks contemporary society.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite

Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation by J. W. Freiberg is a compelling and eye-opening book that discusses a topic that is as relevant as it is intimate to the human spirit: loneliness. Using stories of some of his clients, the author, a social psychologist turned lawyer, explores how human misconnections drive the disturbing experience of loneliness, to the point that people live with friends, family, and mates yet they feel a devastating sense of loneliness. The author identifies three different types of misconnection: fraudulent connection, obstructed connection, and dangerous connection and unveils some of their characteristics. People experiencing these kinds of misconnections, like Victoria Bergeron in the story of “The Girl Who Inherited France,” featured in the book, are seemingly normal people, or are they, really?

In this book, J. W. Freiberg analyzes the human experience of loneliness and explores some of its causes, illustrating how wrongly forged connections can be unsettling and harmful. The ability to share stories from people he’s encountered in his work is exceptional and the analysis the author shares with readers is enlightening. While reading Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone, I felt compelled to examine the connections in my personal life, from family to friends and the people I meet in the neighborhood. The author compels readers to ask the question: Am I genuinely, authentically, properly connected? It is surprising how some of our connections are either dangerous or fraudulent.

The book is entertaining and hugely informative, but what makes it stand out is the way it will compel readers to scrutinize their relationships. In an age when gadgets and technology make us drift further and further away from real human connections, this book is a powerful reminder of the importance of human connections to our personal and social health. Just as Brene Brown is the expert on human vulnerability, J. W. Freiberg is an expert in human connection and loneliness. It is a page-turner and a must-read.

K.C. Finn

Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation is a work of non-fiction focusing on relationships and personal feelings and was penned by author J. W. Freiberg. In this highly engrossing follow up to Four Seasons of Loneliness, the author once again explores the crisis of social isolation and chronic loneliness, this time through an exploration of a lack of connection in relationships. What results are some beautifully penned portraits of real cases, along with a deep and psychological exploration of the human experience through their eyes, and from the author’s own perspective as a lawyer.

Whilst this wouldn’t be my usual go-to read, author J. W. Freiberg had me hooked right from the beginning. For a work of non-fiction, the scenes in these different cases are presented with all the creative talents of a novelist, inviting us to meet fully realized characters and engage with the intense problems and feelings that they are experiencing. This highlights the central issues of the book in an emotive and extremely relatable way, helping those who have never experienced chronic loneliness to truly understand how damaging it can be, and also how it affects and is affected by relationships. What results is an emotional journey of getting to know both the author and his cases, whilst also being deeply educated on an important element of social psychology for the modern world. Overall, I would highly recommend Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone for all readers wanting to understand mental health in the modern world a little more.

Viga Boland

Are you one of the millions out there who, like me, even in the midst of loved ones, on a deeper, almost secret level, feels very much alone, and hence often lonely? The colorful book cover of Surrounded by Others Yet So Alone by J.W. Freiberg, social psychologist and lawyer, illustrates this perfectly. But even more perfect illustrations of this antithesis are found in the five real stories Freiberg shares with readers in this, his second book focussed on loneliness. Freiberg opens his book with a fascinating and comprehensive look at human connections and how they ultimately affect our relationships. That section alone is eye-opening. You might instantly recognize some of the things causing a disconnect between you and a spouse, a family member, or a co-worker. You’ll want to dog-ear those pages for future and further reflection. After this introduction, the sensitive and caring story-teller in J.W. Freiberg takes over from the psychologist, and readers become immersed in stories starring some amazing children; caring, successful parents lost in their secret pasts; a dedicated, well-meaning lawyer whose own profound loneliness nearly gets him disbarred; a battered wife whose own PTSD is as bad as that of her veteran mate, and a most unusual relationship between an oriental opera singer and their partner of several decades.

Freiberg’s story-telling abilities made every case, even the legalities explored, of interest. But what is most unforgettable are the principal characters peopling the stories, and Freiberg’s skill in making them come alive on the page. By the time I read each person’s story, I felt I had known them for years, even the brilliant children whose ability at self-expression rivals that of many adults. I recognized the lonely heartache of the fat child who grew up feeling unloved and desperately in need of feeling worthwhile. And I related to that female victim of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse. These are all everyday people like you and me, but oh, how life and other people have impacted who they ultimately became. Surrounded by Others Yet So Alone is not a depressing book. Yes, its truths are profound and thought-provoking, but as Freiberg takes us through the complications of each case in his friendly style, often even poking fun at himself, readers cannot help but feel how lucky each of these characters was to have Freiberg in their corner. That most likely was not the author’s intention in writing this book but you can’t come away without hoping that if the need ever arises, each of us might find a Freiberg in our circle of friends. Brilliant book, brilliantly written. Highly recommended.

Gobi Jane

Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation by J. W. Freiberg is a book that hit me hard and that had me thinking about the nature of my relationships and human connections. In this book, the author explores the “why” and the “how” people have others in their lives and draws the attention of the reader to the scourge of this age: loneliness. Indeed, one can walk for miles and miles through a teeming crowd and still feel terribly lonely. In the stories featured in this book, the author shows how we connect with others for the wrong reasons and the wrong way, and while such connections might not show an immediate health concern, they aren’t healthy. He calls such connections misconnections and explores how they affect characters he has known. The author shares real experiences and encounters with his clients and shows readers how loneliness becomes a troubling issue that leads to suffering.

I loved how J. W. Freiberg brings his experience as a social psychologist and lawyer into the book. Most of the characters whose stories are shared are the author’s clients and the analysis he makes of their cases is astonishing; it explores the theme of misconnection and how what we think are relationships do not benefit us. As I read through these pages, I could relive my personal experience of loneliness, even in the company of people I thought loved and valued me genuinely. That void and the disturbing sense of not belonging is a theme so well written about in this book that it becomes very illuminating to readers. Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation is an eye-opening book with a message that contemporary readers need to hear. It is insightful, intelligently crafted, and filled with wisdom.

Jamie Michele

Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation by J. W. Freiberg is the fifth book published in the author's non-fiction arsenal that is drawn by his legal career. This installment is preceded by Growing Up Lonely, Four Seasons of Loneliness, Critical Sociology, and The French Press. In this volume, Freiberg delivers five distinct stories that delve into the very real situations of people who are emotionally isolated despite having a traditional circle of people around them. The book begins with an overview of the different types of connections—aptly labeled as misconnections—which do little or nothing for our wellbeing. Through the lives and the cases that Frieberg presents, we are able to connect on our own with those who themselves were burdened by loneliness.

Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone is as much a psychological study as it is a compelling reminder of the difference between quality over quantity in the circles we build as well as those we do not, such as with family. I was particularly touched by the chapter on a young boy named Billy Denver, an emotionally starved cancer patient who turns to Frieberg in an attempt to make things right with his parents in The Boy Who Was Older than his Parents. Billy is such a profoundly intelligent boy that he sums up the kinship between himself and his mother by saying, “There’s just no heat in her warmth.” The stories are incredible, made more so because they are true, and are brought to life through the talented writing that only an author with the skill of Frieberg could portray. This is an excellent book that is easy to recommend to any reader who adores true to life narratives.


The author relates incredible stories extremely well. They aren't always the happiest of stories, but they're real life and true to the facts. It's great reading, and I highly recommend it.

Corinne Marlow

Surrounded By Others And Yet So Alone is now one of my very favorite reads. The topic is difficult and yet so important, and the author, J.W. Freiberg's concern and care for his clients is particularly heart-rending and uplifting. I can only hope now that more social psychologists will become lawyers!