On Awe, Wonder And Things That Sustain You When The World Goes Dark

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

No less than three friends gifted us this book last year and it’s taken us this long to finally take the dive below its phosphorescence scattered ocean waves.


Journalist Julia Baird before a graffiti wall in 2019

Author and journalist, Juila Baird. Image: Susan Papazian


We love Julia’s journalistic pieces and her humour and smarts on The Drum. She’s also a globally renowned author and award-winning journalist who writes columns for The New York Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. After the publication of her first book, Media Tarts – based on the portrayal of female politicians – she moved to the United States to take up a fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School. In 2007, she became senior editor of Newsweek in New York. Her work has earned her no less than five Walkley Awards and two Walkley nominations. She has also written many articles and (two) books addressing gender and politics, so we were super curious about why so many of our friends wanted us to have this book. Oh, and did we mention it also received the 2021 Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) for book of the year?

But we knew Baird had had cancer and had been through divorce and we had heard whispers of ‘harrowing times’ so we put off reading, thinking it was going to be an intense and hard going delve. We are now here to say, don’t be scared!

The book is a comforting, beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ which Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – a light that will sustain us even through the darkest times.


“We write to be able to put our arms around another person. Writing this book has shown me there are so many people with a hankering to find all the things that unite us. There’s so much more that brings us together than divides us.” ~ Julia Baird


It’s a wonderous metaphor and it’s so expressively styled here through science and intuition in equal measures.

 Baird explores the last decade and the learnings that have shown us how to become better at knowing what brings us contentment, well-being and joy.

We know, for example, that there are a few core truths to the science of happiness. We know that being kind and altruistic makes us happy, that turning off devices, talking to people, forging relationships, living with meaning and delving into the concerns of others offers our best chance of achieving real happiness.

She also explores how to retain these snatches of happiness. How we can harness that elusiveness? She asks – when we are exposed to, or learn, good things, how do we continue to burn with them?

Through Baird’s own experiences of dark times, of being overwhelmed by illness, heartbreak, loss and pain, we see ‘how to’ survive, stay alive and even bloom. In the muck and grit of a daily existence full of disappointments and a disturbing lack of control over many of the things that matter most – finite relationships, fragile health, fraying economies, a planet in peril – how do we find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light – a light to ward off the darkness?

‘In my quest for what Emily Dickenson called ‘the light within’, I learned these simple, powerful lessons. First, pay attention. Second, do not underestimate the soothing power of the ordinary. Third, seek awe, and nature, daily. Fourth…..well, so many things: show kindness; practice grace; eschew vanity; be bold; embrace friends, family, faith and doubt, imperfection and mess; and live deliberately.’ 

This is not a memoir and it’s certainly not a self-help book. It’s simply a search for luminosity through optimism and gratitude and through honest, lived experience.

Absorbing, achingly beautiful, inspiring and deeply, deeply moving, Julia Baird has written exactly the book we need for these times. Don’t be scared!

Find Phosphorescence in all good books stores.
Follow @juliabaird


A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness - the 'light within' that Julia Baird calls 'phosphorescence' - which will sustain us even through the darkest times. Julia Baird is a globally renowned author and award-winning journalist.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published