Book Review: “Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone”

Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone by J.W. Frieberg
If the title of this book says it is all psychology, think again. Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer’s Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation is a book by attorney J.W. Frieberg. He tells five stories of cases he’s handled over his long career. I couldn’t stop reading.

Yes, the cases are fascinating in themselves, but the author does point out that loneliness of one sort or another is involved…as it is in life. In one story, a man falls in love with an opera star who is male, but who convinces his lover that he is female. (Yes, the M. Butterfly story.) Frieberg gets involved when an immigration problem is referred to him.

In another tale, we find a young girl raised by her mother and her boyfriend who, when the mother dies suddenly, is desperate to stay with the “stepdad”, but legally, he has no rights. Frieberg gets involved and eventually the case is resolved, but not without international trips, a trial and lots of partnering.

A third story involves an attorney who is about to be disbarred, yet this attorney works harder for his pro bono clients than most attorneys do. The attorney is charged with encouraging three clients to go to trial rather than take plea deals. The attorney then loses all three cases at trial.This story has remnants of childhood bullying, poor parenting and yes…loneliness…but is ultimately resolved in a most unusual way.

A young man who appears to be the adult in a family situation is the contact in the fourth case, and a love of bread plays a major role in the fifth case.

The book is thick (396 pages), but because each story is told completely, we find the reading to be easy. We get a resolution in about one-fifth the time it would take in an entire memoir. Frieberg explains his interest in stories that are impacted by loneliness this way:

“Chronic loneliness has become a public health crisis of the first order. An ever increasing number of adult households in the United States are now single person households. In 2018 the percentage of such households stood at 28 percent. In today’s United States, 63 percent of adults remained single. …In 2010 over 35 percent of American adults reported that they considered themselves to be chronically lonely, up from 20 percent two decades earlier.”

Yes, the stories in themselves are fascinating legal cases, but when the author talks about loneliness, the reader also must think about that as well. Frieberg holds a PhD in Sociology and a JD from Harvard Law School.

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