Sometimes, the legacy of depression includes a wisdom beyond one's years, a depth of passion unexperienced by those who haven't traveled to hell and back. Off the charts in its enlightening, comprehensive analysis of this pervasive yet misunderstood condition, The Noonday Demon
forges a long, brambly path through the subject of depression--exposing all the discordant views and "answers" offered by science, philosophy, law, psychology, literature, art, and history. The result is a sprawling and thoroughly engrossing study, brilliantly synthesized by author Andrew Solomon.
Deceptively simple chapter titles (including "Breakdowns," "Treatments," "Addiction," "Suicide") each sit modestly atop a virtual avalanche of Solomon's intellect. This is not a book to be skimmed. But Solomon commands the language--and his topic--with such grace and empathy that the constant flow of references, poems, and quotations in his paragraphs arrive like welcome dinner guests. A longtime sufferer of severe depression himself, Solomon willingly shares his life story with readers. He discusses updated information on various drugs and treatment approaches while detailing his own trials with them. He describes a pharmaceutical company's surreal stage production (involving Pink Floyd, kick dancers, and an opener à la Cats) promoting a new antidepressant to their sales team. He chronicles his research visits to assorted mental institutions, which left him feeling he would "much rather engage with every manner of private despair than spend a protracted time" there. Under Solomon's care, however, such tales offer much more than shock value. They show that depression knows no social boundaries, manifests itself quite differently in each person, and has become political. And, while it may worsen or improve, depression will never be eradicated. Hope lies in finding ways--as Solomon clearly has--to harness its powerful lessons. --Liane Thomas
From Publishers Weekly
"Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who despair," begins Solomon's expansive and astutely observed examination of the experience, origins, and cultural manifestations of depression. While placing his study in a broad social contex-- according to recent research, some 19 million Americans suffer from chronic depression--he also chronicles his own battle with the disease. Beginning just after his senior year in college, Solomon began experiencing crippling episodes of depression. They became so bad that after losing his mother to cancer and his therapist to retirement he attempted (unsuccessfully) to contract HIV so that he would have a reason to kill himself. Attempting to put depression and its treatments in a cross-cultural context, he draws effectively and skillfully on medical studies, historical and sociological literature, and anecdotal evidence, analyzing studies of depression in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, Inuit life in Greenland, the use of electroshock therapy and the connections between depression and suicide in the U.S. and other cultures. In examining depression as a cultural phenomenon, he cites many literary melancholics Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, John Milton, Shakespeare, John Keats, and George Eliot as well as such thinkers as Freud and Hegel, to map out his "atlas" of the condition. Smart, empathetic, and exhibiting a wide and resonant knowledge of the topic, Solomon has provided an enlightening and sobering window onto both the medical and imaginative worlds of depression. (June)Forecast: Excerpted last year in the New Yorker, this pathbreaking work is bound to attract major review attention and media, boosted by a seven-city tour.
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