in: Behavior, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #485: Why Visiting Dark Places Is Good for the Soul

When you go on vacation, you probably travel to places that help you feel good, relax, and have fun. My guest today likes to visit places where great human suffering and tragedy has occurred.

His name is Thomas Cook. He’s a writer of crime fiction, but in his latest book, Even Darkness Sings, he takes readers with him on the real family trips he’s taken to see humanity’s darkest places, including Auschwitz, Verdun, and Hiroshima. We begin our conversation discussing how Thomas and his wife got the idea to visit dark places, how all dark places are different yet connected, and how darkness has a unique power to offer insight and even hope and optimism. Tom then takes us on a tour of some of the tragic places he’s visited and the lessons he’s learned from them. We end our conversation discussing the importance of treating dark places with somber reverence and how a personal dark place was created for Tom while he was writing this book.

Show Highlights

  • What drew Tom and his late wife to “dark” places?
  • How these dark places can bring light to life — albeit obliquely 
  • Some life lessons that Tom learned in traveling to these places 
  • Why some unlikely places have dark feelings 
  • Finding surprising darkness in Fiji  
  • The darkness of Verdun, France 
  • The insight that rowdy teenagers can give to dark places 
  • Some places where accentuating the darkness actually backfires 
  • How people reacted to hearing about Tom’s travels 
  • The dark place that was created for Tom during the course of writing this book

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Even Darkness Sing by Thomas H. Cook book cover.


Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)


Google Podcasts.





Listen to the episode on a separate page.

Download this episode.

Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.

Recorded on

Podcast Sponsors

Brilliant Earth is the global leader in ethically sourced fine jewelry, and THE destination for creating your own custom engagement ring. Shop all of Brilliant Earth’s selections by going to

Candid Co. Clear, custom made aligners to straighten your teeth at home. 65% cheaper than braces, saving your thousands of dollars. Get 25% off your modeling kit by visiting

ZipRecruiter. Find the best job candidates by posting your job on over 100+ of the top job recruitment sites with just a click at ZipRecruiter. Visit to learn more.

Click here to see a full list of our podcast sponsors.

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. When you go on vacation you probably travel to places to help you feel good, relax and have fun. My guest today, well, he likes to visit places where great human suffering and tragedy has occurred. His name is Thomas Cook. He’s a writer of crime fiction, but in his latest book, Even Darkness Sings, he takes readers with him on the real family trips he’s taken to see humanity’s darkest places, including Auschwitz, Verdun, and Hiroshima.

We begin our conversation discussing how Thomas and his wife got the idea to visit dark places, how all dark places are different yet connected, and how darkness has the unique power to offer insight and even hope and optimism. Tom then takes us on a tour of some of the tragic places he’s visited and the lessons he’s learned from them.

We end our conversation discussing the importance of treating dark places with somber reverence, and how a personal dark place was created for Tom while he was writing this book. After the show is over check out our show notes at Thomas joins me now via

All right, Thomas Cook, welcome to the show.

Thomas Cook: Thank you very much for having me.

Brett McKay: So you wrote a book, Even Darkness Sings. It’s about your travels. Now what’s interesting about your travels, a lot of people, you know, they pick themes for their travel, and I’ve known folks that have visited World War II sites, Civil War sites, homes of famous authors, places where Hemingway lived.

You and your late wife decided to visit dark places. Now before we get there, how did you guys define a dark place and what drew you to visiting those types of places?

Thomas Cook: Well, I think that we had … I knew especially given the fact that it occurred to me at one point that this would be a book, was that we had to define dark places in various ways. You couldn’t just go from one concentration camp or one battlefield to another. You had to define the kinds of darkness that exist in life.

So of course you have the celebrity sites, you might call them dark places, like Auschwitz and Robin’s Brook and Verdun, but I also wanted to visit places where there had been, for example, a romantic tragedy, or a medical tragedy, or a natural disaster, or a political tragedy that did not involve necessarily atrocities, but was a tragedy.

So I just came up with various kinds of places that I wanted to go, and in a sense also, just in my travels they began to define themselves, and these places sort of began to speak to me in tragic ways that you wouldn’t necessarily notice if you didn’t sort of have that broader understanding of what human tragedy is in your mind.

Brett McKay: What drew you to that? Did you visit, like, there’s a dark place you visited and you saw something there that, maybe, “I want to go see more of this?”

Thomas Cook: I think it was really, the moment that it really began to occur to me, the value of all of this was when I was in Italy with my daughter. We had been living in Spain, and we rented a car every summer, she went to the American School of Madrid, she was 12 years old. We would rent a car every summer, she had six years off, and travel all around Europe. We also went to North Africa and other places like that.

We were in Cosenza, a little town, a dreary, actually little town, on the coast in Italy, and we’d been driving all day, and she was 12 years old, and we’d been going to museums, which she called, “broken pot museums,” and we were on this river, and Susan had this incredible ability to take a ten minute nap and become completely refreshed.

So during that time, Justine and I would go out and we would play a game of hearts or rummy or something like that, but we were on this river, and I could tell, it was the end of the day, it was extremely hot in Italy, she was very tired, and we were looking at the river, the little Busento River, and I said, “You know, this is where Alaric died.”

And she didn’t know who Alaric was, but she asked, and I said, “Well, he was the last pagan emperor of Rome.” And that sort of sparked a little bit of interest. Not much, but a little. And then I said, “You know, when he died here, they wanted to keep his birthplace secret, so they rerouted the river, they had hundreds of slaves who rerouted the river, and then they buried him in that river and then they brought the river back to the channel, all of which is true, so that no one would ever know where he was buried. And that sparked yet more interest, and I could see the river looked a little bit different to her now, something had happened. And then I said, “And when it was over, they slaughtered all of the slaves who had buried Alaric, so that none of them could tell where he’d lay.”

And I saw something different come into her eyes. Suddenly, this was a place something very, very dark had happened. And there was just more, a kind of intellectual passion for that place that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. And it struck me me then, in a child twelve years old, that this was, this was a good thing to do. A place to, not just Disneyland or Six Flags. To take your kids to places like this from time to time. And I always say, Brad, that, you know, it’s fine to take your kids to Disneyland and Six Flags and other places. I’ve done that, we went to Disneyland. We went to great fairs, we’d gone to amusement parks in Barcelona, throughout the world. But from time to time, you know, there’s, you might want to go to a dark place and have a different kind of conversation with your children.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and what’s interesting in these dark places, the places you went to, you know, human atrocities occurred, tragedies occurred, but the theme that comes up over and over again in your book is that these dark places can bring light. They can sing. They can give insights about life. But they do so obliquely. It’s like, it’s not direct, right? It’s not like you get hammered in the head with it, but it happens maybe a few days or months after you leave the place. So, I’m curious, like, over the time you’ve been doing this, what are some of the sort of general themes or life lessons you’ve gotten from visiting these places?

Thomas Cook: I think, you know, I say in the book at one point that dark places speak to each other. And in a way, it works like if you go to one dark place after another, certain lessons occur that really are germane to all of those lessons, all of those places, and come out of that experience. And so that the lessons are compounded. And I remember, particularly at Auschwitz, we had gone there and spent the day there, and it was very dark, and there was nothing really about Auschwitz that you could find in any really redeeming way. So you really don’t look for that, although there were acts of great courage at Auschwitz, and great goodness that happened there as well, among individuals.

But what happened was I left Auschwitz was that I remembered the trip there, and we had left Budapest that morning, believing that we would be in Krakow by, you know, by four in the afternoon, but the roads were very bad, the signage was awful, I would have to get out and talk to these German bus drivers in these big buses, and you know, my German isn’t very good, and their directions were always [German] direct, [German] direct, which means straight on. But then you would get to a fork in the road, okay, straight on which way? You know, left or right?

So as we got sort of bumblingly closer to the Polish border, it was getting very, very late. It was after midnight, and we finally reached the Polish border at around 3 in the morning. And these three guards came out, and I’ll say now, it was a little suspicious, because they were all wearing different parts of a single uniform. I mean this was really right glasnost said not approach this place, it was right out of John le Carré. And they began to talk to me in Polish, and they wouldn’t let me in Poland even though I had, you know, passports and everything, like that. They kept asking for something, and I didn’t speak a word of Polish, but they kept asking, and they kept asking, and I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna have to turn back and go to Budapest. They’re not gonna let me in at this border crossing.”

And then all of a sudden, I heard this voice, it was absolutely angelic, this voice said, “May I be of assistance, sir?” And I turned around, and there was a guy named Ziggy, who had lived in the United States, but his wife wanted to come back to Krakow. They were on their way to Krakow as well. He negotiated everything for me, everything for me, and got me across the border. And I thought, “That was just an act of human kindness. That was absolutely wonderful.”

But that man would not have been able to do that if I were a Jew fleeing Poland in 1944 or 1943. He would not have been able to do that. And the lesson there was one that really, before tyranny comes, that’s when you act against it, because once tyranny is in place, it takes super-human courage to oppose it. You can oppose Hitler before he’s a complete autocrat, but you can’t oppose him after, unless you are truly, truly, truly courageous.

And so, I guess my lesson there was that, it’s sort of a moral responsibility to be wise, to know that you have to begin to foresee what’s liable to happen. What are the consequences of certain kinds of political decisions? And to look forward as much as you can. And that happened again and again to me in places that if people could have just taken a moment, and thought, and tried to really figure out what the consequences of their actions are going to be. And we’re not perfect in that, you know?

Obviously, you know, the rear view mirror is perfectly clear. But at least try, and then maybe we can prevent some of these things in the future.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I mean, maybe that’s how one way dark places, you know, are connected and they talk to each other, because a lot of these things and these tragedies happen, you know, people really didn’t see it coming, or they weren’t paying attention.

Thomas Cook: That’s exactly right, I mean the Austrians voted for Anschluss. We keep forgetting that Hitler was elected by the German people. And it’s when you see the steps towards authoritarianism before authority has completely instilled itself, embedded in itself in the political process, then you have a chance to stop it. But you have to really look ahead.

You know, there’s a wonderful letter to Lenin, I’ve often quoted it to my more left-wing friends, and it is a letter that said, “If a government is dominated by one party, it will finally be dominated by one committee within that party, and it will finally be dominated by one man within that committee.” And that was a letter written of warning, written by Rosa Luxemburg to Nikolai Lenin before the Communist Revolution became Stalinist, you might say.

Brett McKay: Right. Well let’s talk, let’s take a little visit of some of these places you visited throughout writing this book and throughout your life. I loved, I mean, you start off with this really poignant scene with the book. It’s the Spanish Civil War, Colonel Jose Moscardo, he was the leader of the nationalist army. He was in a fort called Alcazar, and he gets a phone call. And you got to visit this fort and you got to see this phone.

Thomas Cook: Yes.

Brett McKay: What happened during that phone call that he got?

Thomas Cook: This was the Alcazar, which is really the military academy, the West Point of Spain. And if you go to Toledo, Toledo is built on a hill, and the Alcazar just dominates that hill. And he was in charge of the fascist forces, Franco’s forces there. The republicans had captured his son, he was seventeen years old, I believe, named Louis. And they called him, and they told him that they had his son, and that if he did not surrender the Alcazar, they would execute him.

So on the pretext of wanting to make sure this was his son, Colonel Moscardo asked to speak to Louis. And Louis came on the phone, and they talked for a little while. And then Colonel Moscardo said to him, “Prepare to die, my son.” And when I saw that, I saw it in a film called “To Die In Madrid,” a documentary about the Spanish Civil War, I just had this incredible impulse to see that phone. To go to the Alcazar and see that phone.

It took me years to do it. I was already married by then, so I went with Susan, and I went with Justine, but I did see that phone, and they still have it there. And the room is completely preserved, except they’ve now put up portraits of Louis and Colonel Moscardo.

But it has entered, sort of, the legend of the Spanish Civil War. What happened there, to me, was that I went out on the esplanade outside that, and for some reason, began to think of my own father. And that’s what really gave me the notion that these dark places sort of unmoor you. And they let you think about your own life, and it’s a really intimate kind of moment in which you share with yourself, your own past, and the past of mankind. And all of that sort of comes together in those moments if you just let your mind go free.

Brett McKay: What insights about your father did that experience give you?

Thomas Cook: Well, my father and I did not have a lot in common. He was a very sweet man, a very, very kind man, but we did not have a lot in common, but we did have one thing in common. He’d like to go to weird places. He liked to go where there were floods, where a tornado, we were in the south, I was brought up in the Appalachian foothills, so Fort Payne, Alabama. And we would go to places where tornadoes had ripped up a barn, or unearthed a tree, or they’d have these sleet storms, and he would love to go out and see the sleet storms where the power lines had been torn down.

He was just tremendously attracted to the sort of the topsy-turvy, the things that looked weird, and I realized that I probably, although I didn’t think I had a lot in common with him, I had that in common with him, and it was huge. It was a very deep kind of connection that we had. He would always take me with him, and we had our greatest moments doing that when I was growing up as a little boy.

Now, I suddenly realized, you know, how much he meant to me, because I had not thought about my father, you know, very much, other than ordinary ways, in a long time, and suddenly, though the Alcazar, he really came roaring back into my heart.

Brett McKay: Now, I loved how you said that visiting these places unmoor you, like they disorient you. It sounds almost like they’re like physical tragedies, right? Like geographic tragedies. Like tragic place from Ancient Greece, where they did the same thing, sort of disoriented you, got you thinking about things, you experienced a catharsis, and it helped you think about things that you probably otherwise wouldn’t think about.

Thomas Cook: That’s exactly right. Because you’re not distracted by rides, and attractions, and all that sort of thing, and your mind is really, can become a little bit unfocused, even on the place that your at, it allows you to simply make connections with your own life so that history connects with you at your most intimate aspects of your life. And it’s an incredibly powerful experience sometimes.

Brett McKay: As you said earlier, you know, you visited some of the really big places, like Auschwitz and Hiroshima. But some of my favorite sections were like on the places that at first blush, they don’t look like dark places, and one of those is a place called Lourdes in France. Tell us about that, and why is it a dark place?

Thomas Cook: Lourdes is in the Pyrenees, and it’s a very famous place of Catholic pilgrimage. It’s based on this young woman, Bernadette, who really didn’t even speak French, because that part, at that time, that part of France was really sort of not really France. It was nationally, but the people there really didn’t speak French. She saw a vision in the grotto there, the little rock cave. It was a very, very poor area. And over time, this grotto became a very famous place of pilgrimage.

If you go there now, and I was again there recently, it’s very honky-tonk. I mean, it’s a huge tourist attraction, they bring in big buses, and all that sort of thing, because it is so famous, Lourdes. And we spent the day there, and the night, and it was a dark place only because it seemed to be because they had commercialized an element of faith in an extremely garish way. I mean, they have statues of Mary that are really a water bottle where you’d knock off her crown and pour water in it. It’s very, very vulgar, almost like it was an Elvis Presley shrine. It’s really awful.

And we were about to leave, and then the night procession began and it was so extraordinarily beautiful that it just simply washed away all of the ill feeling and disappointment that I had in Lourdes, and my wife and my daughter as well. Because the procession is of people who are deathly ill. You see wheelchairs and you see people in hospital beds and they’re being pushed by family members, or sometimes by hospital staff or by nuns. And in many cases, you can tell by the threadbare clothes they wear that this trip to Lourdes is the only trip they’ve ever made, and they’ve made it there because they are in desperate straights.

I saw that a dark place can really overcome almost everything that’s done to make it less dark. It can overcome even the commercialism around it, and that made Lourdes very powerful, and then its darkness very bright.

Brett McKay: Another thing that you do throughout the book is that you have these little snapshots, little vignettes of dark places popping up almost spontaneously during your travels where you least expected it. For example, you found a dark place unexpectedly while you were in Fiji, which, you know, that’s a prime vacation destination for most westerners. What dark place did you find there, and what insight did you get from it?

Thomas Cook: Well, you’re right, it was completely unexpected. I mean, Susan and I and Justine, we always believed in traveling on public transportation if we could, not in tourist buses. We never went on tours or anything like that. And there’s a wonderful line from a travel writer that says, “Life is best seen in the third-class carriage.” And I’ve found that that really is true.

So we were taking the bus into, I believe the town is called Nadi, a little town in Fiji, because Fiji is basically divided between the way people actually live in the towns and the villages and these huge resorts. And for the tourists, the buses just take you from resort to resort. You don’t ever really have to go into the real Fiji. But we were on the bus going in there, and this man sat down next to me. Very, very friendly man, and he was very, very large. He had lived in England, and he said to me, “Did you know that Fijians are good bouncers?”

And I said, “No.” He said, “Oh, yes, they employ us a great deal in Britain and other places because we’re very big, but we’re very nice.” And we had a really nice conversation, he was a very lovely man. And I was thinking of the book at that time, and I said, “What do you think is the worst thing that ever happened to Fiji?” And he said, “The British leaving, because they would never have allowed Fiji to become the way it is.”

And Fiji is, in fact, a police state. And I thought, how sad to be a person who lives in an island indigenously, this is his island, and to think that it takes foreigners to impose kind of the rule of law upon you. That may or may not be true, but that’s how he felt, and I thought that that was extremely, extremely sad.

Brett McKay: I mean, did you see any hope there with these guys? Or was it, this is really sad, it just speaks to the human condition that sometimes life, you just, you’re born in the wrong country or you’re born in the wrong time, whatever.

Thomas Cook: Well, I don’t think there’s any question that you’re just simply born in the wrong time and history just rolls over you. There’s an incredibly poignant scene that happened in a killing field in Poland, and it’s actually photographed and you can actually see the video, but I was reading about it in Joachim Fest’s book, a biography of Hitler, and they had dug a ditch, they had dug a great big ditch and they were running people naked. They had taken off all their clothes and they were running people naked into that ditch to be shot. They’d run one group in and the other group would run over that group, and he talks about a girl who is running nakedly towards that ditch, and as she runs, she points to herself and she says, “Seventeen. Seventeen.” Meaning that she was going to die at 17, and that was the most poignant thing she could say at that moment.

And that, for me, has always been a symbol of history just simply rolling over you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Brett McKay: Man, that’s haunting. That’s really, really haunting. So another place you visited was the World War I place Verdun in France. Can you describe the darkness that took place there?

Thomas Cook: Verdun is generally regarded as the worst battlefield experience ever experienced by soldiers anywhere. It was called the meat grinder. It was designed to be that. In a Christmas memo, a general had said that in order to extract the French and bleed them away from the western front, they would create a kind of eastern front and bleed the French army white. That’s exactly what was said in that Christmas memo.

And so it was always designed to be an absolute killing field. And when you go there, you really see just what a killing field it is. It’s one of the places where the landscape has actually taken on what happened there, because most of the wounds that were suffered by soldiers during Verdun, they were concussion wounds. They were not bullet wounds or bayonet wounds, they were concussion wounds by mortars and high explosives, so they were literally blown to bits.

So the mortars would hit and they would blow up the earth and pile the earth up, and then blow up another one and pit, and blow it up. So when you look at the landscape around Verdun, it’s very, very jagged, because some trees, since then, have grown up at the bottom of those pits, while some have grown up at the top of those pits. And so the whole landscape is sort of jagged. And what you see is a part of the earth that has simply not recovered from what happened there.

The slaughter was really quite unbelievable. I remember reading that the average lifespan of a first lieutenant there was about six weeks. Of another soldier, about a month. But the trip to Verdun really also sort of gave me a metaphor for what I was doing, because we left Paris heading for Verdun in a rented car. And you go down what the French call the [French 00:24:13], which is the sacred road, the road down which the flower of French youth went in trains and buses and even taxi cabs to the battle site of Verdun. It’s now a highway. And French highways are very, very, good, they’re very, very clean, they’re very well maintained. And you just zip down that highway, and all the way, you see these huge posters for Disneyland, because Disneyland France is the most visited place in France. It is extremely popular. And you see all of these people going to Disneyland, and you see these children and these teenagers.

And I thought, “Yes, it’s repeating.” Yes, it’s fine to take your kids there, but if you go just a little further down the road after that, or next year, you get to Verdun and you can have a wonderful experience there with your family as well, by walking the battlefield, by talking about the war, by seeing the films, by giving them a sense of what other people suffered and didn’t have the chance to go to Disneyland and never will.

Brett McKay: You also, speaking of young people, you had an insight there while you were on your visit because there was a group of German high schoolers taking a tour with their school. They were kind of just joking and jostling around, like, they didn’t recognize the dark place for what it is. Did that happen a lot during your travels? Like, you’d go somewhere where something really terrible happened and people just didn’t really connect with that.

Thomas Cook: Well, in some places, yes, and in some places no. Some places have taken a step in creating a more somber atmosphere than just simply letting people wander about. For example, in the killing fields in Cambodia, there’s a sign before you enter the killing fields that tells you that you should not smoke, you should not play radios, you should not look at your phone. In other words, you should take a moment and be somber, because this is a place of great tragedy. At Auschwitz, there’s a huge sign right before, you know that famous [German] that you go under, there’s a very big sign in many languages that says that this is a place of great suffering, you should comport yourself in such a way to respect the suffering that was inflicted upon people here.

And that does actually work. I also noticed that at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, the light is very low. It’s not a brightly lit museum, and that adds also to the somberness. So when places really do attempt to give you a sense of the somberness of it, it can really be effective. At Verdun, there’s not much of an attempt to do that, and they have, you know, a little shop where you can buy things, touristy things, bracelets with your name on it and that sort of thing. But Verdun is very large, so people are all over. And this group of German kids, they were just jumping around, leaping around, they looked like they were like 14 or 15 years old. And I got sort of irritated about it. It seemed to me they shouldn’t be behaving in this way.

And there’s a very large mortuary there, and this is where they keep the bones of the fallen of Verdun. And as we were leaving, I could look up at the tower and everything and see those bones. And the German bus was pulling away with all the kids in it, and they were frolicking and everything, and I said to my wife, “You know, really, this was wasted on them, wasted on them.” And she said, “Well, I think you may be a little bit more intolerant than the people whose bones are in the tower, because if they could look down and see these kids frolicking and having a good time, they might think, ‘Well, I’m glad they can. I’m glad they have their lives. We don’t.'” And she was probably right.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and I’m sure some of those bones in there, they were probably 14, 15 years old.

Thomas Cook: Yes.

Brett McKay: Right. They’d rather be those kids. They would do the same thing. And speaking of going to that point of places trying to make it somber, let people know this is a place where tragedy occurred, you also talk about how they can go too far and it can actually backfire and sort of eliminate the feeling of, I guess reverence is the right word, or respect.

Thomas Cook: Mm-hmm.

Brett McKay: I think one example you gave is like, there’s a medieval castle where they depicted people getting boiled alive, and it sort of, I don’t know, they were trying to really hit home the idea that something bad had happened here, but it actually backfired and people kind of thought it was funny.

Thomas Cook: Yeah, there were a few places that really, really are bad. They are not good at evoking even remotely what happened there. I think chief among those is the Tower of London, which is a very dark place. You know, people have starved to death there, the executions that were carried out there were awful. And Thomas Mccauley actually called the royal chapel inside the Tower of London the saddest place on earth, so he certainly must have felt something very deep there. But when you go there not, you know, everybody’s in a beefeater costume, they’re selling candy, they’re selling tea, they have these big glass boots, extravagant prizes. You go into the Tower of London and they’ve turned it into a sort of prison Disneyland.

Another place where they failed is a prison in an island in the bay of Thailand which was a south Vietnamese prison where north Vietnamese prisoners were kept. And they have these sort of papier mache figures that are carrying out torture and everything. They have the tiger cage and they put papier mache figures in there, life-size papier mache figures. And what you see is people putting cigarettes in those people’s mouths, the papier mache figures’ mouths, frolicking around, joking. They had a human sized sort of frying pan, and they have soldiers put a man in that frying pan, and you know, some people, most of them were Vietnamese, I didn’t see any westerners there, they’re going, “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” Just sort of joking around and stuff like that.

So places have to be aware of how they display themselves. And if they are going to evoke frivolity in human beings rather than somberness, they should find another way to display it. It’s quite different in Tuol Sleng in Cambodia, which is the torture center there during the Khmer Rouge, and there they just left it exactly as it is, with the torture implements out, with the wire beds out, and you walk from room to room and it’s very, very somber. You really get a sense of what people suffered there, which you don’t get …

Brett McKay: When you were doing these travels, and you know, some places you’ve visited, people would ask you, “Why are you here?” I mean, when you told people what you were doing, what were the responses when you told them about visiting dark places?

Thomas Cook: Well, I mean, I think often what happened, which surprised me, was that they suddenly told me about a dark place they had gone. And I could tell that they were very moved by that place, but they were not inclined, necessarily, to go to another one. And what I was trying to teach is that you really can go from one to the other, not in some sort of parade through the history of horror, but as a moving experience for your own emotional life. And I could tell that from time to time, people really did respond to that in the very individual ways of the things that they had seen and the places they had been.

Brett McKay: In the course of writing this book, your wife died of cancer. Did that create a personal dark place for you in the location where that’s now a dark place?

Thomas Cook: Well, I think yes. I recently went into the room where she died because the apartment was being sold, and of course you feel that. But I think her death, she died at 62 of metastatic breast cancer, I guess what that taught me is that the task of life is to outrun regret. And it’s hard to do, but that is our task. And Susan’s great love was travel, and even though at 62, dying, I’m sure she felt like she did a great deal of life. She never got to see her grandchildren, for example, which is very, very sad to me, but we had done so much. Since her great love was travel and we had done so much of it, I thought how much more she would have felt cheated if we had waited to we retired or waited to when it would have been easier, or waited to when we had more money, how much more cheated she would have felt had we not done so many of the things that we really, really wanted to do.

And since then, you know, I’m older now, I’m 71 years old, so I’ve seen people who have waited to retire and then all of a sudden someone has a stroke or something else happens, and they never get to do the things that they dream of doing only later. Now I’m certainly aware that you have to have a little money, but it’s also how you choose to spend your vacations and everything like that. This is what she wanted, she got a great deal of it before she died, and if I feel any sort of recompense with regard to her, it is that she actually did have great experiences in her life, even though it was taken from her way too soon.

Brett McKay: We’ve literally scratched the surface, there’s so many places you talk about in the book, and you even give, at the end, an itinerary of dark places that you’d like to visit. But where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?

Thomas Cook: Well, the book is of course available, you know, in bookstores and Amazon. They can buy the book. It’s also available on Kindle, digitally, and they can buy the book and they can see if any of those places appeal to them. They might want to go, and they can also look at the itinerary of places that, if I lived forever, I would visit, because I believe that this has been so infinitely valuable, an experience that I would like to continue it as long as I can.

An even greater lesson is that, I think, is that my daughter wants to do this for her children. She considers it an extremely valuable experience that she had growing up, and she is bent upon with her two children and her husband, repeating these voyages with their children, because she considers it an absolutely unforgettable experience that deepened her and made her a citizen of the world rather than just a citizen of one country or one state.

Brett McKay: Tom, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Thomas Cook: Thank you very much for having me, Brett, I really appreciate the opportunity.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Thomas Cook, he’s the author of the book “Even Darkness Signs,” it’s available on and bookstores everywhere. Also check out our show notes at, you’ll find extra resources where we delve deeper into this topic.

Related Posts