Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (2001)[*****].  I heard Andrew Solomon speaking about depression recently on the NPR radio program Speaking of Faith, and he struck me as thoughtful and eloquent, so I got his book.  I was not disappointed.  Broken into twelve chapters -- Depression, Breakdowns, Treatments, Alternatives, Populations, Addiction, Suicide, History, Poverty, Politics, Evolution and Hope -- this book lays out just about everything one could ever want to know about depression.  Each chapter weaves careful research, moving yet unsentimental stories from Solomon's interviews and correspondence with people who suffer from depression, as well as many candid and compelling stories of Solomon's own battles with depression.   I especially appreciated the chapter on poverty, and was easily persuaded that basic, and often highly treatable, depression is both a cause and an effect of poverty, and that any effort to end poverty must include aggressive mental health outreach.  I was also very moved by the many personal stories, in particular in the first three chapters.  I was heartened to learn of pretty effective treatments now available, including several "alternative" treatments that Solomon investigates with exceptional openness.  Some of the science felt a tiny bit above my head, and the history chapter dragged a little bit for me, but overall The Noonday Demon is very nicely written and quite accessible.   Anyone who suffers from depression, or loves someone who does -- which includes most of us -- will find this eye-opening and compelling.

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