email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAll That You Leave BehindAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNever EnoughNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaTen Years a NomadThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThings We Didn't Talk About When I Was a GirlThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Andrew Solomon's new book has received a great deal of positive press. The website associated with the book has a page listing reviews; many of them have been glowing, and few have had criticisms of the book. The Noonday Demon certainly is an impressive work, but it is worth pointing out that is a curious and obviously imperfect work.
A Noonday Demon is a large book, at 567 pages in total, with 432 pages of main text and another 54 of notes. In twelve chapters, Solomon covers a great deal of ground: Depression, Breakdowns, Treatments, Alternatives, Populations, Addiction, Suicide, History, Poverty, Politics, Evolution, and Hope. In the earlier chapters he includes his own experience of depression, including three severe breakdowns, suicidal behavior, psychoanalysis, psychopharmacology, the help of his father and his friends, and occasional references to his lovers. He describes in detail his mother's struggle with cancer and her planning to kill herself as hope for cure faded. When all hope was extinguished, she called her family around her bedside and took an overdose, saying her final words to her sons and husband, and dying. In the chapter on alternative approaches, he reports his investigations trying out a range of unusual and unorthodox ways to reduce depression. In the later chapters he occasionally refers to his own experience in his comments on the topic at hand. Throughout the book he relates the stories of people he has met or communicated with while he was researching and writing. He also never shies away from giving his own opinions on controversial issues -- he is open minded but basically a defender of mainstream psychiatry. All these features make this book very different from most textbooks, popular psychology books, or personal memoirs of depression. It is both encyclopedic and idiosyncratic, combining elements from different genres. The style of writing is for the most part accessible and relaxed. Occasionally he tends towards the poetic or philosophical. He quotes famous literary sources, letters by well known authors, aphorisms and proverbs -- mostly from high culture, rarely from popular culture. It is a high minded book that can also serve as popular psychology, memoir, and even self-help.
Solomon has done a massive amount of work in putting this book together, talking with some of the top researchers in the relevant scientific fields, reading scientific and historical work, and integrating this information with the personal experience of the people he has met who suffer from depression, as well as his own experience. Ultimately though, this is more a work of reporting and memoir than a scholarly study. Solomon argues for his views, but his arguments are very much his own, and while interesting, are often problematic.
One clear example of how Solomon's work is troubling is in his treatment of medication. He tends to defend the pharmaceutical industry from its critics. He writes, "the ludicrous assertions made in such stridently foolish books as Prozac Backlash cannot be taken for more than pandering to the cheapest fears of an apprehensive audience. I deplore the cynics who keep suffering patients from the essentially benign cures that might give them back their lives." (p. 81). He doesn't say which assertions are the foolish ones, and it's hard to even guess what he might mean. Joseph Glenmullen, the psychiatrist who wrote Prozac Backlash, says that he often prescribes Prozac and thinks that it can be a very helpful medication in the treatment of serious depression. Glenmullen's point is that the side effects of SSRI antidepressants have been underemphasized and that the drug manufacturers have made decisions based on the desire to make profits, at the expense of patient welfare. Glenmullen also suggests that health maintenance organizations and insurance companies put financial pressure on physicians to prescribe medication when it is not the best option. Furthermore, he argues that antidepressants can have withdrawal effects when discontinued which leads to patient dependence on the medication.
Not only does Solomon misrepresent Glenmullen's views, but he also expresses ideas that agree with Glenmullen. He says that he is happy to be dependent on his medications -- he has tried three times to stop taking Zyprexa three times in two years, and has failed every time. (p. 236). Solomon is also ready to acknowledge the power of new medications including their unpleasant side effects, and he explains in some detail how other treatments may be more helpful than, or could be used in combination with, medication. Solomon also gives several stories of incompetence and malpractice by psychiatrists, so thankfully he does not insist that professionals never make mistakes. Ultimately then, it's not at all clear why Solomon has such a strong reaction to Glenmullen's book. It's as if he is confusing Glenmullen with Peter Breggin.
One of the most moving chapters is the one on suicide. He gives the story of his mother's illness and suicide, as well as his own suicidal inclinations. He defends the possibility of rational suicide, and holds up his mother's case as an example of it. He also defends the right to suicide. But his treatment of the ethical issues is crude. He writes, "If I ever attempt suicide, I'd like someone to save me, unless I have reached a point at which I accurately believe that the amount of joy left in my life cannot exceed the amount of sorrow or pain." (p. 247). Obviously the idea that we could find a way to measure amounts of happiness is implausible (a problem that has plagued utilitarianism and economic theory since their inception) but this problem applies to a wide range of proposals. More specific to Solomon's criterion is that is seems to allow too much suicide. One might plausibly think that most lives have more sorrow and pain than joy -- some major religions are based on the fundamental idea that life is full of suffering. In my experience, most people would say that they would find a small amount of joy made life worth living even if they had to put up a large amount of pain.
Solomon sets out some of the arguments that have surrounded the right to suicide, but his discussion is a mixture of anecdote, statistics, and brief summary of other people's ideas, with his own opinions thrown in. He emphasizes that whether or not it is rational, suicide still provokes powerful reactions. Even when it is justifiable, part of us still finds it very hard to accept. Yet Solomon says that the idea that he might be robbed of his ability to kill himself is horrific to him. It's an unusual view: of course there might be circumstances when I'd want to kill myself, but I can't say that it's a freedom that is precious to me. I wonder to what extent Solomon's view is shared by other people. In the end, while it's interesting and powerful, it's a chapter without a sharp focus. There's plenty of food for thought, but it's a stew.
Other chapters also have similar characteristics -- brief accounts of different treatments, the history of the understanding of depression, the relation between addiction and depression, the political dimension of depression, and so on. Most of the information that Solomon gives is familiar to those who have read other books on depression, even if no other books collect the same range of information together. One of the most important and original chapters is on poverty. Solomon charts how poverty and depression are significantly correlated and are mutually reinforcing. He points out that we can reduce the amount that society spends on welfare services if we treat mental health problems, but as the chapter on politics shows, there's little rationality when it comes to public policy concerning depression.
Overall, other books will give more detail about the topics of individual chapters, but no single book for a general audience gives as much information about depression as The Noonday Demon. As with most atlases, it will contain some facts or ideas that are new to most people, but most of them will be familiar. It's well written and thoughtful, and it will be useful and interesting to people who have not already read several other books about depression.
© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk.