Book Review: Why We Dream

The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey

by Alice RobbHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
reviewed by Alizah Solario
Why We Dream book cover

Anyone who has woken up feeling a bit like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa—that is to say, anyone who has emerged from slumber wondering if their dream world was more real than their waking life—will find value in Why We Dream by Alice Robb.

Robb doesn’t simply answer the question she poses in her title. She takes readers down a nightly rabbit hole to meet lucid dreamers, dream experts, and academic researchers, proving that her inquiry into dreams can be just as bizarre and fascinating as dreams themselves. 

She takes readers down a nightly rabbit hole to meet lucid dreamers, dream experts, and academic researchers.

For starters, why do we dream? “Dreams play a crucial role in some of our most important emotional and cognitive systems, helping us form memories, solve problems, and maintain our psychological health,” writes Robb. Interspersed with her own dream journey (she started as a skeptic), the author makes a strong case, backed by both science and intriguing anecdotes, for at the very least trying to improve our dream recall. (Robb offers plenty of strategies.) 

This book is full of uncanny examples in which attention to dreams paid off. After a bad hiking accident, the famed neurologist Oliver Sacks began having dreams of the muscle in his leg looking soft and pulpy. Later, it turned out he had suffered nerve damage, which led him to explore the connection between physical symptoms and dreams in his research. Countless writers and artists credit their dreams with creative fodder, and experiments show that when presented with a riddle during our waking hours, the subconscious can at times present answers via dreams. 

Not only might dreams offer pure pleasure and entertainment, Robb argues, they also provide a treasure trove of information about our waking lives that we’d be foolish to ignore. The resulting ideas are at once scholarly and mystical, at times clarifying, and also full of mystique. 

Reading this book is a submersion in the land of dreams, one that may prompt readers to record their nightly journeys each morning. The process just may transform their waking life. —Alizah Solario

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