The Noonday Demon examines depression in personal, cultural, and scientific terms. Drawing on his own struggles with the illness and interviews with fellow sufferers, doctors and scientists, policy makers and politicians, drug designers and philosophers, Andrew Solomon reveals the subtle complexities and sheer agony of the disease. He confronts the challenge of defining the illness and describes the vast range of available medications, the efficacy of alternative treatments, and the impact the malady has on various demographic populations — around the world and throughout history. He also explores the thorny patch of moral and ethical questions posed by emerging biological explanations for mental illness. With uncommon humanity, candor, wit, and erudition, award-winning author Solomon takes readers on a journey of incom-parable range and resonance into the most pervasive of family secrets. His contribution to our understanding not only of mental illness but also of the human condition is truly stunning.
“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.