At the center of this ambitious project is the author's frank account of his own life-draining depression. "I would have been happy to die the most painful death," he says of one episode, "but I was too lethargic even to conceptualize suicide." In another bout with despair, he does attempt self-destruction by trying to infect himself with AIDS.
Solomon contends that depression is so widespread and pervasive that it can no longer be dismissed as a socially negligible affliction. In its chronic form, he reports, depression besets "some 19 million" Americans, including two million children. Its ravages worldwide, he adds, are more devastating than any other health problem except heart disease. "Untreated depression [in the
U. S.]," he notes, "has a mortality rate of between 10 and 20 percent."
In searching for his own cure, Solomon leads the reader through a mind-bending maze of prescription drugs, "talking therapies" and alternative treatments. At one point, he even travels to Senegal to partake of a blood-soaked ritual that involves the sacrifice of a ram and a rooster. Besides being unwaveringly honest about himself, Solomon introduces a gallery of tormented friends and acquaintances who personalize the many forms depression can take. His anatomizing of melancholy strikes a balance between the systematic, in which he compartmentalizes historic, scientific and demographic facts, and the anecdotal, through which he conveys the oppressive weight of the malady.
Despite the dead-ends that victims and researchers of depression continue to encounter, Solomon ends his book with a chapter bravely called "Hope." That quality, he shows, resides less in the glacially slow advances of drugs and psychiatry than in a recurring human condition that is as tenacious and mysterious as depression itself: the will to live. Copyright 2001 BookPage Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2001 April #2
A reader's guide to depression, hopelessly bleak yet heartbreakingly real.In this massive tome, Solomon (A Stone Boat, 1994, etc.) confronts the terrors of depression with a breadth both panoramic and precise. The 12 tersely titled chapters ("Depression," "Breakdowns," "Treatments," "Alternatives," "Populations," "Addiction," "Suicide," "History," "Poverty," "Politics," "Evolution," and "Hope") address with spectacular clarity the ways in which depression steals lives away, leaving its prey bereft of their very selves. Despite the occasional cliché ("Life is fraught with sorrows") and heavy metaphor ("Grief is a humble angel"), Solomon's prose illuminates a dark topic through the unfolding tales of his sources and his own life story; by allowing the voices of those who battle depression to speak, rich and varied pictures of daily struggle, defeat, and triumph ultimately emerge. The author deserves kudos as well both for the geographical span of his account (which ranges from Senegal to Greenland) and for its historical sweep (which begins with Hippocrates and continues to the present). Paradoxically, the completeness of Solomon's vision undermines his readability: so much suffering fills these pages that, at times, it's all a bit too much darkness. (The gruesome litany of suicide techniques, for example, seems gratuitous.) Nevertheless, the importance of the work becomes virtually self-evident when Solomon addresses such topics as the cultural denial of depression, masculine fears of seeking treatment, strengths and weaknesses of various treatments, the salutary effect of diet and exercise on depression, the high cost of treatment, and chronic depression among the elderly. Fortunately the final chapter is "Hope"--for the reader will certainly be in need of some after the marathon of gloom. So good, so vitally important, but so . . . depressing.Author tour Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved
Library Journal Reviews 2001 February #1
Based on an acclaimed 1998 New Yorker piece on Solomon's struggle with depression. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2001 April #2
In addition to the self-help and parental advice genres is the literary and philosophical study of depression that harks back to Richard Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. The Noonday Demon, based on an article that Solomon wrote for The New Yorker in 1998, is such a book. The backbone of this superb work is the author's narrative of his own struggles with severe depression his musings on its multifarious causes and on the role that his privileged socioeconomic status has played in its successful management. Solomon also interviewed scores of other depression sufferers about their trials with treatment and visited Africa, Greenland, and Cambodia in search of different cultural perspectives. This journalistic approach allows Solomon to convey a great deal of information in the form of fascinating, if sometimes horrific, life stories. This compassionate work that never simplifies complex matters is essential for all collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 May #2
H"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 context 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. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.