Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

...Or Not to Be: A Collection of Suicide Notes Paperback – February 1, 1997

See all formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
"Please retry"
$127.98 $4.99

Weed the People by Bruce Barcott
Weed the People by Bruce Barcott
Check out the newest book by Bruce Barcott. Learn more | See all by author

Best Books of the Month
Best Books of the Month
Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 114 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; 1st Riverhead trade pbk. ed edition (February 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573225800
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573225809
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #489,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

. . . Or Not to Be is described, by its own editor, as "pornography." It's also oddly fascinating, a collection of suicide notes by the famous, including Kurt Cobain, Vincent Van Gogh, Diane Arbus, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolf. Also included are poignant last words from the utterly obscure, including an anonymous Siberian who duly noted that "the snow will cover my footsteps," and a man who wrote "Bow wow and good-bye, Pepper," to his dog. Of particular interest in the collection are suicide notes by Dorothy Parker, who survived, and Ken Kesey, who was pulling a prank on the feds. Etkind also offers much factual material in the annotations to the many selections.

Customer Reviews

So you can tell this must be good, easy reading book.
Briefly covering the history of suicide notes, the book doesn't get interesting until the fourth chapter when Etkind covers what he calls notes of "disgrace."
Sheckie Green
Great coffee table book for guests to start up a conversation.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By C. Wu on August 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
The suicide notes themselves as well as the similarities between them were quite interesting. The author's comments about the the narrow vision experienced by the suicicidal, while perhaps being psychologically accurate showed a complete lack of understandign of the emotional experiences of the depressed. His tone implied that he felt those who committed suicide were not intelligent enough to see any other way out of their situations. The author himself doesn't seem to have any idea about what it is like to feel so completely lost and desperate. The commentary was also rather repetitive and didn't seem to offer much insight other than the fact that suicidal people see no other way to end their suffering.
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
57 of 63 people found the following review helpful By ritchie on January 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
If you are interested in a book of suicide notes, you obviously have your reasons. And this is one of the few books that deals with such a controversial subject in such a blunt manner. But don't let the title fool you; this is not merely a collection of suicide notes. It's heavily peppered with Mr. Etkind's opinionated, self-righteous preaching.

This wears on the reader's nerves quickly. At times Etkind ridicules suicide notes for being inadequate or incoherent. I quote (from page 1): "If someone could think clearly enough to leave a cogent note, that person would probably be able to recognize that suicide was a bad idea."

I'm sure we would all love to be spared the sophomoric, non-scientific statements and instead be allowed to form our own opinions based on what the book advertises: "a collection of suicide notes" (not "Etkind's beliefs on suicide"). Perhaps this book is ideal for someone who is desperately trying to escape the guilt of a loved one's suicide. It paints all suicidal people as confused, selfish souls who are 100% to blame for their tragic ends. How convenient that philosophy is for those left living.

My technical criticism of the book is this: the book is fragmented and insufficient. Full names are rarely given, thus preventing the reader from researching matters further. The suicide notes are frequently abbreviated or condensed. In the "Acknowledgements" section, we learn that Etkind merely snipped and pasted from other books. So what we have here is the Cliff's Notes version, interesting if you have an hour to kill on the subway or in a doctor's office but little more than that. Whatever you do, don't pay $53 for this 114-page paperback book. I found it for $10, and even that is a stretch.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By scott c on May 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
I uncovered my copy of "...or not to be" beneath some shirts on my floor and leafed through it again. What struck me the first time I read this years ago and again today was the sad fact that this fascinating subject landed in the hands of such a terrible author. How he got this published, I'll never know.

While the notes in this book are interesting by their nature, Marc Etkind's commentary displays the depth of his ignorance of suicide as well as his disdain for it. In no way does this book touch upon the psychological, philosophical complexity of suicide. His interpretations, at best, are amateurish and void of meaning. At its worst, they are condescending and cruel. Here is the last sentence of the introduction to the book, written by Etkind -

"The following collection will allow the reader to decide just how good a correspondent the suicide note-writer really is."

Um, Mr. Etkind? This isn't a book about correspondence or letter writing 101. How far off base can this guy get? In the small biography about Etkind at the end of the book, it reads, "Marc Etkind has probably read more suicide notes than anyone else. This he does for enjoyment." (Then it talks about what he does for a living) If that doesn't tell you how cavalier his approach is to suicide, I don't know what will.

Clearly, the value of this book is the notes themselves. I regret this book wasn't written by someone who actually has an interest in suicide and suicide notes rather than childish enjoyment. It could have been very informative; to get a unique view into the minds of those who left by their own hand. Even if it had been purely for entertainment, lacking serious overtones, that could have worked too.

Marc Etkind is neither serious nor entertaining.
Read more ›
4 Comments Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Ronne on January 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
I rarely read anything. But this book was read in 5 days. It is so interesting and captivating to a manic-depressive as myself. To really look into the final words of people who saw no hope. The downfall was the editorial comments of author Mark Etkind. I enjoyed looking into the poetic/artistic meaning behing the words. He took everything at face value and with a grain of salt. It can become quite anoying. Other than that, it is a great book for anyone with an infatuation with death, and the romance of suicide.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you're trying to understand the suicidal mind, this may not be
the best book. The notes may give some insight, but the interpretations are pretty much completely wrong. Etkind demonstrates absolutely no understanding of what makes people take their life; he classifies them as stupid, insane, and morally bankrupt. Short-sighted, irrational, and self-centered would be more accurate, and there's a world of difference.
If you have a fascination with death, this book may provide some titillation, but it comes from a very condemning point of view. There's a thought provoking chapter on the history of the suicide note, and the rest of the chapters are each dedicated more or less to a certain reason for committing suicide. Etkind's idea seems to be to go through the possible reasons and debunk them one by one. Because his understanding of people's reasons and mindsets is so weak, he does a pretty poor job, but it still could be offensive. He also throws in a fair amount of ridicule at the stupidity of notes in general - as if a secondary goal were to damp that impulse to leave a note.
The stories of people are the great part of this book. They're mostly short notes or excerpts with minimal back-story, but the humanity is incredible even in some of the shortest. The notes of the famous people are often less interesting than of the anonymous mass. Maybe they're hurt by being excerpted, or suffer from the incompleteness of the accompanying history.
Overall, a 3 because the book is inexpensive and an engaging read. The notes are the real stars here, and the factual background is interesting; the interpretetive passages are misguided and grating.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Recent Customer Reviews

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?