on April 19, 2003
"Suicide and Attempted Suicide: Methods and Consequences" by Geo Stone is a cookbook. But instead of teaching you how to make a soufflé or Peking Duck, it has recipes for death. Like any good cookbook, the methods are clearly categorized by chapter (such as asphyxiation), and each has step by step instructions, as well as medical background about how it works, how difficult it is to do, what could go wrong, and what to do in each case to ensure lethality.
There's no nonsense here. You won't be talked down to or patronized. It's accurate and precise information written by a doctor who has studied each method. This makes it an important and interesting book because there is very little accurate information on this subject available. Dr. Stone is clear to point out that there are many misconceptions about suicide methods in the general public. And if you're going to play with fire, don't you think you it is wise to know what you're doing?
Just like any cookbook the author does not make tangential remarks about why he made this book. But there is an underlying message of personal responsibility here that can be gleaned from the book's introduction and Dr. Stone's dark humor.
Part One of the book describes suicide in broad terms, speaking of the different kinds of people who in the past had made successful or unsuccessful attempts. And there's a clear warning that due to lack of information some people who didn't really want to die, end up making the tragic mistake of using a method that is much more lethal than intended. The reverse warning is also here: That for those who wanted to die, and took action without clear thought often results in waking up in an Emergency Room with a damaged body or a slow and painful death.
Personally, I am more familiar with genuinely wanting to die rather than using a suicide attempt as a gesture for attention. When I read this book, I was depressed and specifically purchased the book for the "recipes" in Part Two. I was amazed to discover how many choices you have, even when your goal is the same. As I continued to read, I realized that these methods would always be there, waiting for me, tucked away like a fire extinguisher. Despite the great pain that you might be feeling, I realized that there is no need to rush things. I could execute one of these methods, and ensure my death, at any time I chose.
What I'm about to say might sound strange to you initially, but this feeling of certainty and control over your own destiny is something that I hadn't felt before. So, now, as I finished reading, and put it back on the shelf, I wondered what things in life existed to which I had not properly been introduced. If there were so many ways to die, could there be even more ways to live? I believe this feeling of control and certainty that I now felt is what kept the book on the shelf and me in the game. I hope that if you purchase this book, you will experience a similar feeling.
on March 24, 2000
(...)this is a book about which it's hard to be neutral. If you think that suicide is always wrong, a sin, or a crime, you won't like it: the book provides lots of "how-to" information that can be used to commit suicide. But at the same time there is an anti-suicide thread running through the text---time and again, the author suggests delay, alternatives, and medical treatment, so the in-your-face pro-suicide crowd (small, but vocal) won't be happy either. Further, the author's website contains, among other things, lots of grisly photos that seem intended to discourage suicide.
Unlike Gaul, the book is divided into two parts. The first half is an overview of suicide, covering history, causes of suicide (considered through sociology, psychiatry, and biology), American and Dutch end-of-life medical practices, and a few related areas. Compressed into a little over a hundred pages, this broad coverage is not terribly detailed but functions well as a summary and is both interesting and well done.
The second half describes, with sometimes weirdly-fascinating factoids, what is known about suicide methods (the "how-to" part) and their medical consequences (the "why-you-probably-shouldn't-try-them" part). If you're interested in suicide methods, this is the best source of information available. If you're not, there's far more information here than you want to know. Trust me.
The book's layout is poor. References are in the back organized by chapter, but pages in the text don't have chapter headers, so it's easy to lose your place, whilst flipping back and forth. Footnotes are at the end of each chapter instead of at the bottom of the page, another annoying practise, and there are a surprising number of typso. <g>
In sum, if you want to know why people kill themselves, there are better sources. If you want to know how, this is your book.
on March 6, 1999
This is the definitive book on the subject, exhaustively researched, and yet quite readable...
As I read this book, I was struck that this is not so much about suicide, as about self-determination (...). I began reading this out of a sense of professional obligation, but quickly found the book surprisingly interesting. There is a wealth of detail presented, with the solid and sobering information relieved by the often wickedly amusing (albeit occasionally warped) footnotes.
While the "how to" sections are quite graphic, the reader can readily find areas of interest through the clear chapter subheadings, and thereby skip those that might be either too gory or too technical. But the detail presented is here out of necessity-for how else can the individual make an informed decision?
This book clearly does not advocate suicide. It provides individuals with the information to make a better decision about their future. For example, if someone wishes to make a gesture, it gives them guidance about appropriate choices that will not leave them off in an even worse state.
As a physician, I was a bit put off by the author's criticism of docs. I think he underestimates the chilling effect the threat of professional criticism and repercussions has. Of course, there is also the effect fear of more serious legal action (eg charges of murder) has on the willingness of physicians to be more active in this area. This extends to efforts in the area of pain relief (such as by providing adequate doses of morphine) which are often inappropriately criticized as excessive. Also, as he notes, docs have been very poorly educated regarding pain control.
I highly recommend this thorough reference work, the most definitive work I have seen on this controversial subject. It is far more than a "how to" manual. It is both a reference book, as well as a thoughtful resource, providing objective information, historical information, and perspective on this difficult topic.
on July 15, 2007
When I was 11 years old, my brother and I were walking to our favorite swimming spot on the Colorado River. We passed through a dusty, overgrown lot where an old man had been living in his trailer. We saw him working around his car, with a tube that he'd taped to his exhaust pipe. He looked up, smiled and waved. When my bro and I were done with our swim, we walked home the same way we'd came. We noticed the old man's car running...amber smoke in the car, the long tube taped from his exhaust pipe to the rear window...his head was leaning against the passenger window. We knew then that he'd killed himself.
The thing that strikes me about that memory is the peace that I saw in the old guy's face prior to his making his exit. He wasn't obviously tormented - he looked happily resolved. And if my life was deteriorating in an uncomfortable and irreversible way for myself, I'd like to think I have the backbone to go ahead and pull the plug like he did. Why is there so much stigma attached to this act? I guess the key word here is "irreversible". Some dire situations, certain emotional pains - seem to have no end, so suicide appears to be the best solution to some people...in the moment. If they'd just work through the pain of a temporary situation...they can go on to a happier existence. Is this a dangerous book for people at that threshold? My life partner reacted badly to the mere idea of my owning this book, and brought that point up. I reminded him that he and I come from a generation that was used to hiding all the smut and dirty little details of reality...the new generation is the "Information Age". If a person really wants to learn how to do something, they can research it on the net and forums dedicated to certain controversial topics. But this book DISSUADES someone from making a foolhardy gesture - going into detail about the consequences (pain/crippling) of certain common methods of trying to "dispatch" oneself. It's presented in a very realistic, responsible way. If I had to lose my entire library and only keep one book - this would be the one book that I would keep - tucked safely under my arm - as a valuable reference for the moment I might need it in the (hopefully distant) future. Throughout the tumultuous journey that is life, I find great comfort in having my guidebook, my "map", of how to gracefully, and with dignity, be able to find my final resting place - should I need it.
XXX...As a final note to this review; I found out later that the old man my brother and I saw commit suicide had been pining for his life-long sweetheart, who had died the previous year...in addition to facing grave health problems of his own. I used to go into his abandoned trailer to play "Go-Fish" with my little friends, and never felt weird about what I'd witnessed. I felt like he would have welcomed me being there.
I wish people would start giving up their fear of death in our narrow-minded little western society. Other, comparitively primitive societies have much healthier and more realistic attitudes than we do.
on December 2, 2004
This is a disturbing book, but, given the culture we live in, an essential one. I believe it will deter those that need detering and assist those who truly need self-deliverance and are unable to get help from others.
One comment: geo stone, along with all others writing about 'taboo' matters, is still way behind when it comes to an informed and humane understanding of depression - indeed 'mental health' illnesses in all their forms. Today we understand that epilepsy is a condition. Years ago people living with any kind of epilepsy - there are many forms of the illness - were considered to be inhabited by the devil, satan, etc. Our views on mental health illnesses remain just as stunted and backward.
Many people living with, for example, agitated depression since childhood have treatment-resistant brains that have incurred damage over time. These good folks are currently considered off-limits by everyone when the subject of assisted suicide is mentioned. The excrutiating and relentless pain of untreated, long-term depression in any form, rivals any physical pain from cancer, kidney stones - anything. Yet still, people with depression are lumped together; termed 'mentally ill'; and are treated like scum. Even those living with schizophrenia have moments inbetween the episodes where they can see the hell they occupy. Many folks living with depression of any kind never get a break from the pain - they suffer and witness and exprience the pain without any numbing or relief AND are amongst the most sane people you could hope to meet. They are not 'crazy' - they have illnesses. They are not 'irrational' - they are ill.
Someone dying of cancer has the right to assistance from groups like the Hemlock Society, but not someone in the hell of depression that has not been touched by any kind of medication at any time. My sincere hope is that our culture will begin to understand that depression can hit in many guises and that many people live untreated in hell. These people deserve the right to assisted self-deliverance and if that help is not around the corner, the right to know, in detail, how to deliver themselves so that the suffering may cease. Who amongst us should be expected to live an unlivable life? Who should be so punished?
I think this is a great book. And I hope that works like this will open up other 'taboo' areas, such as the one I've written about above.
on February 21, 1999
This is an odd, idiosyncratic, fascinating, uneven, irritating, and important book: there's nothing out there like it. "Suicide and Attempted Suicide" is primarily a study of suicide methods---how people try to kill themselves (or, more often, try to get attention or help). It reads as if it were written by more than one author, or over an extended period of time: the tone bounces unpredictably from didactic to ironic to funny (be sure to read the chapter endnotes!).
The first half of the book touches on a wide range of suicide topics: history of suicide, the legal situation, treatment options, terminal illness, philosophical issues, euthanasia and assisted suicide. The information is interesting and well enough presented, but tries to cover too much ground in too few pages. A reader unfamiliar with this material will find it a reasonable, though patchy, introduction that can be followed up from the author's well-chosen "suggested reading" list.
The heart of the book is the second half, where it discusses suicide methods and their consequences in clinical detail. This treatment will surely be controversial, since the author provides "how to" (and "how not to") information that can be used either to commit suicide or to carry out a suicidal gesture.
I've seen only one other book that takes a similar approach, Derek Humphry's "Final Exit" to which this book will inevitably be compared. "Suicide and Attempted Suicide" is the far more comprehensive and detailed work, which is both its strength and its weakness. There is no better---in fact no other---book that discusses the variety of suicide methods in any significant depth. However the large amount of information comes at a cost: a suicidal reader may have a hard time extracting the data he wants from the mass of data he doesn't need. Similarly, the casual reader will probably find the quantity and details of evidence overwhelming.
The writing style is rather pedestrian, which doesn't detract much from a book of this sort, but occasionally slips into "medicalese" which does. On the other hand there are quite a few interesting and informative asides and digressions. These range from early Christian theological disputes, to minimizing heat loss in marine mammals, to the words of Jim Jones (remember Jonestown?) at an anti-suicide rally in San Francisco.
Given the sometimes-gory descriptions, the absence of photos and drawings is a bit surprising. However the author says in a "note to the reader" that these will be available on his website.
Overall, flaws and all, I highly recommend this book for anyone who has seriously considered suicide, or is presently contemplating it. With more reservations---the first half has too little detail, the second half too much---I would recommend it for general readers as well.
on March 30, 1999
This book contains some of the most insightful interpretation of statistical data and superlative research in forensic pathology.
There are two sections in this book. The first section analyzes the social, psychological and biological aspect of suicide in history and at present time, in the US and all around the world. There are some powerful conclusions, such as gun ownership does not necessarily contribute to higher suicide rate, that are counter-intuitive but extremely convincing.
The second part of the book deals with various suicide methods. The tone in this section is notably different from the first part, as if it is another book by another author. Numerous forensic works are quoted here. However, there are some assertions that seem to me novel and dubious, like the author states, without reference, that the carotid artery is on the right side of the neck and the vein is on the left.
While the content of the book is superior, the format is less impressive. The references of each chapter are bundled together at the end of the book; and there's no indication on each page which chapter you are in. This makes it very hard to go from a sentence to its reference. I believe the publisher should be more considerate about the format of this book.
Nontheless, this is a top-notch, definitive work on the subject, infinitely better than Mr. Derek Humphry's.
on July 7, 2000
This is clearly the work of a man deeply steeped in his own moral compass which is nothing but laudable. I would say it is worth reading this book simply for it's strength of character; as an example of what happens when someone looks deeply into a social phenomenon, then deeply into their soul, then expresses the result in a clear, concise way.
Yes this book is challenging to the reader: if you have ANY fear of some means of death or injury (who doesn't?) then there will be some part of the book that defies you to keep staring at the clinical reality of the situation.
Yet Stone makes his case with emotion, feeling and yes, humor -- but never without the utmost respect for those considering suicide or those reaching for help in a desperate act. Never once did I feel Stone was judging the subject or the reader. He saved all that for the system and those that perpetuate it.
I read this book a year ago and it's principles have stayed with me and inspired me to me more open, generous and thoughtful.
on August 29, 2003
I spent some time with this book at a local bookseller. This subject has been with me for much of my 40+ years of life and I was curious to read something that could offer real advice about how to commit suicide successfully. However, as I read about the various methods explained in detail including pros and cons I became more and more discouraged about attempting such an act. There were just too many examples of what could (and has in fact) go wrong leading to among other things disfigurement, blindness, brain damage, etc. By the time I was done reading I was dissapointed by finding too many "cons" to go along with the "pros". Too many in fact to actually go through with the act-at least for now-hopefully forever. May all of you struggling with despair and thoughts of suicide find the sanctuary you need to sustain life. Don't give up. I wish you all well!
on March 6, 2004
I read the guy's website because I can't afford $299 for a book and trust me, it's a helpful thing to read if you're feeling down and thinking about doing yourself in. After too many sites and books that tell you to trust God and everything will be fine, I'm grateful to have found someone who basically says "Okay, here's what will happen if you don't get it right". Makes a bad divorce look like a walk in the park. ;-)
I'm too vain to blow my head off and too scared to risk doing it wrong, so might as well stick around. It was better than therapy and much faster.