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History of Suicide: Voluntary Death in Western Culture (Medicine and Culture) Hardcover – December 18, 1998

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Suicide, or "self murder," was viewed as an honorable death in ancient times. By the high Middle Ages, however, the corpses of suicides were mutilated and buried in unconsecrated grounds. Now, of course, terms like Kevorkian (sometimes used as a verb!) and assisted death have become part of an ongoing national debate. Minois, the author of numerous books on religious attitudes and relations with secular society, has provided a timely chronicle tracing the evolution of societal attitudes toward suicide. He utilizes such diverse sources as St. Augustine, Shakespeare, and Camus. Minois writes in an unadorned, concise prose that aids him in treating a serious subject in a serious manner. Although his own convictions on the issue are clear, Minois treats both sides of our current debate with objectivity, understanding, and compassion. Jay Freeman

From Kirkus Reviews

Minois's book follows the religious, philosophical, literary, and judicial debate for and against self-murder from antiquity to the end of the Enlightenment, demonstrating the close connection between political power, religious authority, social s tatus, and the freedom to die. Minois, an independent scholar and author of 14 books, begins with the change in public attitudes toward suicide in Rome, in the face of military exigencies and a barbarian onslaught. The Epicurean ideal of the ``perfect exi t'' was rejected by a state desperate to increase the number of taxpayers and soldiers at its disposal. Suicide was punished by confiscation of the deceased's estate and destruction of the corpse. After the rise of Christendom, church leaders incorporated prohibitions on suicide into religious doctrine, in part through the philosophical translation of Thomas Aquinas. Medieval law followed suit, prescribing torture, hanging, public display, and ignominious disposal of the corpses of suicides. Not until the advent of scientific inquiry in the Renaissance were these rules challenged, but by then there was a double standard: commoners who hanged or drowned themselves were punished, while nobles who took their own lives with cold steel or pistols escaped ``jus tice'' through insanity rulings and purposely botched investigations. Most interesting is the link between power and suicide; whenever the political and religious establishment experienced weakening authority, official opposition to suicide increased. The Reformation, Enlightenment, and French Revolution all saw intensified propaganda against self-murder. The conclusion is clear, as is Minois's sympathy: suicide is the last refuge of the free man. Death, after all, is not only a land of no return, it is t he line delimiting the power of state and church. Minois's study is detailed and thorough, though he rarely leaves France and England for examples. It may be too thorough for the casual reader, but gory anecdotes and effective reference to overarching int ellectual trends make the book edifying and morbidly enjoyable. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Medicine and Culture
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (December 18, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801859190
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801859199
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,521,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Lyndell Ewin on June 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am doing my honours thesis on the representation of suicide in Shakespeare. This book is excellent for giving a comprehensive look at the history of suicide. It reads really well and is difficult to put down. For my own purposes, there was a lot of info on Shakespeare and it was really useful material. If you're not in the realm of needing the book for study, it would also be an excellent read for finding out more about a subject that although taboo, it is incredibly intriguing and interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a reference for those interested in studying Suicide and suicidal behavior. When studying a subject like this, everyone should start with the basics, i.e. historical reviews and perspectives of the phenomena. After reading this very well written book the reader will surely become more familiar with some of the basic thoughts pertaining suicide and its cultural, historical, and some light scientific perspectives of the suicidal phenomena. Everyone should read it, even for cultural enrichment. Webmaster.suicide@clix.pt
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