Phosphorescence by Julia Baird: A timely & beautiful book

It’s called ” A luminous book full of grace” and “Glinting with insights, a boundlessly generous book.” And yes, its a beauty! It’s the sort of book where you ration its reading because you don’t want it to end.

Julia Baird writes ” How do we continue to glow when the lights turn out? All we can do really is keep placing one foot on the earth, then the other, to seek out ancient paths and forests, certain in the knowledge that others have endured before us. We must love. And we must look outwards and upwards at all times, caring for others, seeking wonder and stalking awe, every day, to find the magic that will sustain us and fuel the light within – our own phosphorescence.”

Reading this book is like having a conversation with a very smart, insightful, articulate friend. Julia Baird is a globally renowned journalist, author and current affairs anchor. A regular contributor to the New York Times and the Sydney Morning Herald, she also hosts The Drum. a current affairs program for ABC TV. her first book, Media Tarts was based on research for her Phd on the portrayal of female politicians. She moved to the USA for ten years to take up a fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School and became senior editor at Newsweek in New York. Her biography of Queen Victoria was published in several countries to critical acclaim. After surviving a prolonged battle with cancer she now lives in Sydney.

She knows about life and facing death, she knows about chasing a career and being a successful woman in media, a mother and writer and at the top of her game. But this book has a gentle intimacy about it as she tells stories, explores where well – being comes from and how we find happiness and purpose when the world delivers hardship. When writing this book, Julia Baird could not have forseen the world of Covid 19 but ironically or magically, this book had its timely birth earlier this year.

What does she tells us? What does she invite us to explore with her? She shares her early morning ocean swims with a group of fellow swimmers in Manly.  Through her words we a transported into the ocean and watch in awe the underwater life she describes and that feeling of being small and yet connected to a much bigger world. Julia Baird talks about a musician friend who spoke of being tired but not jaded and the beauty of those words. As the months of a new Corona Virus world keep rolling out, the challenge is to not be jaded and still find awe in the world. She describes the days of her illness and 15 hour surgeries, slow recovery, trauma and darkness. ” The black ogre stealing all my joy.” She looked for ways of staying alive, keeping upright and talks of learning 4 powerful lessons at this time. Paying attention. Secondly, don’t underestimate the soothing power of the ordinary. Third, seek awe and nature daily. Fourthly, show kindness, practice grace, eschew vanity, embrace friendship and family, imperfection and mess and live deliberately.

” When you stare down death then return to life, such beliefs take on a new clarity and urgency; you do not, cannot, waste a breathe.”

But where do we find this awe Baird is talking about if we don’t happen to be ocean swimmers? The sunrise and sunset bookend our days with awe. Nature gifts us the  perfect change of colours and seasons, the birds and rush of rivers and our feet treading on crisp, frosty ground. She explores the research into the importance of nature to well being and healing and cites study upon study that shows time spent  even in an urban environment, with trees and birds can promote lower blood pressure, less reliance on medication and less depression.

Much of this material may be familiar so what makes this book so special? Its the ease with which she writes and the intimacy of her words. The generosity of sharing her personal experience and the rigour of her research that keep you hanging on to every word. It’s a timely and exquisite book and well worth exploring. check out the bookclub interview with Julia below.

Words by Nora Vitins. Feature image with thanks, Leonid Danilov.


29 June 2020 | Arts


  1. Thanks for the enticing and insightful review, Nora. Phosphorescence is on my list of good books to read – I can’t wait.

    1. Hello Di..Thank you for the comment. It’s such a good book- rich with research. insight and a lightness of being I think you’d enjoy…looking forward to reviewing one of your books very soon! I know you’ve been busy writing while many of us have been baking!

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