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The Thanatos Syndrome
Walker Percy
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The Thanatos Syndrome

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  1,407 Ratings  ·  114 Reviews
The 1990s. Euthanasia and quarantines for AIDS have become the norm. But can even this world sanction a substance that "improves" people's behavior and so reduces crime, unemployment and teen pregnancy? A riveting bestseller by the author of The Moviegoer.
Hardcover, 0 pages
Published April 1st 1987 by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published 1987)
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Not exactly what you'd expect from Walker Percy, and the GoodReads write-up doesn't begin to give you a sense of what this book is about (for starters, it's published in the '80s so someone should fix that blurb!), The Thanatos Syndrome sounds like a Ludlum novel from the get-go and reads a little like one, too, although a less-forumulaic Ludlum novel penned by a far more literary author.

I read it in Nepal back in 1988, a brand-new paperback sent to me by Tom Yates that I sold off a few weeks la
Dec 23, 2011 JerryB rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An utterly fascinating read! great story, great characters, air of mystery, sense of humor ... my pleasant surprise of the holidays so far!

The above paragraph is something I wrote 40% of the way through the book, which I've now finished. I suppose there was no way it could have lived up to the high expectations it engendered, but I'm still giving it 3.5-to-4 stars.

Despite my generally tolerant view toward books with "disturbing" content, I have to say I was somewhat rattled by this one. I believ
Jennifer Grosser
Not sure why, as an one-time English major with a brother who loved this author's books, it's taken me so long to discover Walker Percy. An amazing read. At one point near the end it got pretty disturbing, but the questions he raises about life and death are important and fascinating. I was also intrigued by one character's harangue which included this:

"These are strange times. There are now two kinds of people. This has never happened before. One are decent, tenderhearted, unbelieving, philanth
Jan 12, 2009 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, novels
Here Percy is profound: psychologically astute and socially prescient. He knows people--the human condition, our querks, our excuses, our dilemmas. He knows us inside and out. And in _The Thanatos Syndrome_, Percy puts his own medical-school knowledge to work through his main character Tom More, M.D., a floundering psychiatrist, and numerous other medically-inclined characters dealing with (ahem) a syndrome.

Percy is smart--he doesn't need me to tell him so (especially, alas, post mortem). In th
Angus McKeogh
Jun 29, 2016 Angus McKeogh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pleasantly surprised. I'll admit I was assigned this book in a Southern Lit class at university and never read it. The best part is there's an interesting overlaying story on top of the underlying literary allusions. Entertain and strange. I really liked it. Will definitely have to read his award winner, The Moviegoer.
Ron Hefner
Jan 30, 2016 Ron Hefner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I posted that I first read this book in 1995 and "finished" it in 2011. That's not really accurate. Actually, I've read it three times, and I'm sure I'll read it again.

I believe that Walker Percy is one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. No other writer has been able to explore existential themes and religious / moral themes with such humor and insight. But he doesn't preach. Rather, he draws us in with memorable characters and compelling stories. And he entertains!
When you finish a
Christian Schwoerke
I’ve read most of Percy’s other books—my favorites being Love in the Ruins and The Moviegoer (with a special fondness for his venture into semiotics and philosophy, Message in the Bottle)—but all this took place more than 25 years ago, and my recollections are hazy. The later novels (Second Coming and Lancelot went down easily, as I recall, but left me wanting), so I was not sure what to expect of this last (?) novel, read so many years after my last Percy experience.

The voice and the setting we
Dec 11, 2015 Tiffany rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What a terrible introduction I have given myself to Mr. Percy, a recommended author of some distinction. I think this was his last book before dying, so, perhaps, like Heinlein's latter obsessions becoming a consistently eyerolling theme, this guy was losing it. I don't know. Bulk of the latter half irritated me to the brink of trashing it rather than finishing. There was vast portion dedicated to a grotesque scene in which the main character busts a strange pedo ring that played out like "Going ...more
Bill Mutch
It's paperback whodunit from a quadrant of the universe I'd not ordinarily visit, save for a period of arctic vortex when buried in blankets with a paperback whodunit is just* the ticket.
It's not truly a whodunit because the reader cons very early who has dunnit; the question is merely how and why with associated messy details. What's worthwhile in this is some very fine writing about people...their forms and histories and how they've come to be who they are and do what they do. The narrator
Dec 17, 2014 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disturbing. Percy again writes of the loss of our very selves. A chemical is put in the water that has all sorts of "good effects." Violent crime is down, grades are up. But people become much simpler, less human. Here are a few quotes:
"If one can prescribe a chemical and overnight turn a haunted soul into a bustling little body, why take on such a quixotic quest as pursuing the secret of one's very soul."
"Death makes honest men of all of us. Everyone else lies. Everyone else is dying too and s
Kirk Smith
Sep 13, 2014 Kirk Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot going on in this book and I would just throw up a lot of spoilers if I try. Suffice it to say that Walker Percy is a gentleman and he always writes a good book.
Dec 15, 2014 Fredösphere rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Almost great. This review will be slightly spoilery, but not nearly so spoilery as the blurb on the cover flap.

Walker Percy in an attentive observer of human nature and this enables him to bring detailed descriptions and wild comparisons to his prose. So far, that puts him among the great literary writers. As a bonus, he gives us here a story with a real plot, even some political thriller tropes. This is the first page-turner I've read in a while. That's quite a one-two punch; I can't think of m
Oct 23, 2016 Marcy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quirky, as Percy usuly is....
Lance Kinzer
Aug 02, 2014 Lance Kinzer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Re-reading all of Percy's novels this summer has been a joy, and here he is outstanding as usual. There are aspects of this book that remind me of C.S. Lewis in That Hideous Strength - but Percy is the more profound novelist. Percy writes of a world in which "Reason warred with faith. Science triumphed. The upshot? One hundred million dead." In a world where an odd admixture of tenderness and utilitarianism reigns, the result is moral blindness tending to unspeakable crimes (a word of warning - ...more
Stephen Gallup
Jun 27, 2016 Stephen Gallup rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is nominally a sequel to Love in the Ruins, in that we have the same main character, Dr. Thomas More, and there are one or two passing references to events in the earlier book. The main connection between the two, however, is that once again More perceives something new and very unusual in the people around him -- and apparently nobody else has the slightest interest.

I've seen reviews that call Percy's books thrillers. I don't think the level of excitement rises to that standard, because th
Nathanael Booth
Apr 21, 2011 Nathanael Booth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David Rush
WOW! I didn't realize Walker Percy was so one dimensional. Just so everybody knows, this book is just an excuse to label anybody pro-choice as someone who approves and, he implies, joyfully endorses killing babys up to and over a year old. And he also lumps aggressive euthanasia of aging and sick people in what the real world calls pro-choice.

A quick aside; this book is written in the style where you feel the main character is really just a puppet for the author to tell you his views. And in thi
May 07, 2014 Kenneth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
The sequel to Love in the Ruins. Percy’s writing is here somewhat flatter than the original. However, the novel is interesting in much the same way.

Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome contain Percy’s most political fiction. In the Thanatos Syndrome, the protagonist Dr. Thomas More returns to Louisiana from white-collar prison for selling prescription meds to truck drivers. He notices that people in town have been acting strange. Dr. More re-starts his practice in psychiatry.

When he tre
Jul 25, 2010 Bernie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like to play with wasps
The lessons of this story were great. Making humans "better" usually makes them less human. Humans are fallen creatures subject to many sins and failings. Sometimes, it's one of the more fallen who becomes the hero. Chemicals can be a poor substitute for actually working through our problems. The nice, activist do-gooders may mean well, but because they don't usually think beyond a primary level, are often the cause of much that goes wrong with our society. If we don't understand our history, we ...more
Apr 29, 2008 Charles rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Capsule Review: Don't Read Walker Percy. Ever.

Longer Review: If somebody recommends this book (or any other of his books) to you, rest assured that that he will one day soon try to convince you that the Eagles really are rock n' roll. Afterwards, he will probably inflict some of his "poetry" on you. You know the kind of stuff I mean: four-line stanzas in ABAB that will inevitably rhyme the words "pain" with "insane," "soul" with "hole," "heart" with "apart," and "feel" with "unreal." Luckily, th
Feb 07, 2013 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a difficult book to rate. The prose, action, and pacing is outstanding. What I don't understand is why books by Catholic authors (like Flannery O'Connor) need to have such disturbing topics dealt with as if they were normal. Maybe that's the point they're trying to make, that evil exists in the world, in individuals, in organizations, and that's not the exception but rather the rule, and that it's up to the "right"eousness of the individual to deal with (I wanted to say fight, but that's ...more
Dec 24, 2015 Benjamin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I generally don't read literary fiction, and Percy is known as a literary novelist. But I picked this up at the local library bookstore as one of 16 books that I got at 8 for $1.oo. I'm reading them in order of date of publication. This is something of a thriller, something of a conspiracy novel, but deeper, more thoughtful, more resonant than those thriller/conspiracy novels that show up regularly at airport newsstands. Highly recommended.
Nov 26, 2008 Erik rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
From SAILS record: When psychiatrist Tom More returns home to Feliciana, Louisiana, after doing time at a minimal security prison, he is dismayed by the bizarre behavior he encounters the "curious flatness of tone," the loss of sexual inhibition, of complex speech, even of context in conversation. More is further dismayed to discover that fellow psychiatrist Bob Comeaux is masterminding an unauthorized scheme to eradicate social ills by manipulating cortical functions through surreptitious doses ...more
Jamie Grefe
I've spent time with select essays by Walker Percy and benefited from them very much, still do, as a matter of fact, so I felt it about time to read one of his novels. The story is tightly woven and intricate. He also does a superb job of gliding us into the ending, which, was brilliant in my opinion. My only minor criticism is that it was hard for me, despite his depth of knowledge and lived experience of the area, to fully realize and imagine the Louisiana of the story. I know that's a small c ...more
Susan Emmet
Sep 13, 2011 Susan Emmet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rediscovered Walker Percy on a rainy day at the library. Glad I did.
Dr. Tom More, a semi-disgraced Freudian psychiatrist, finds himself at the center of a conspiracy to fix social problems by "enhancing" the local water source with Na-24, an isotope (I think) that inhibits language, increases sexuality, reduces humans to near-primate status, and all in the name of saving society. Beware of those, religious or political, who want to save us from ourselves.
Much to ponder about coercion between and
Scarlett Sims
This is the second Walker Percy I've read, and I think I liked it better than the first one I read (The Second Coming)(although I don't remember the rating I gave that one). It's a very quick read and very plot-driven, although still manages to hit on quite a few philosophical/ethical issues. I will warn the reader, toward the end the story gets very very dark and there is a bit of disturbing imagery. However, Percy manages to capture both the depravity and redemption that humans experience quit ...more
Matthew Klobucher
Jun 28, 2009 Matthew Klobucher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Walker Percy has deftly combined the satisfying nostalgia of a Southern Novel with the excitement and tension of a medical-disease caper. Written from the wryly amusing and common-sense perspective of Dr. Tom More, a disgraced psychiatrist with a history both of medical breakthroughs and of alcoholism and drug use, the story sets itself firmly in the superstitious and historically rooted society of southern Louisiana. As he resumes his practice, Dr. More discovers some disturbing symptoms. Follo ...more
Erik Wyse
Not as strong a work as it's predecessor, Love in the Ruins. I found this book far more commercial and plot-driven, with some cringe-worthy passages dominated by tiresome exposition. Still, the work was not without some wonderfully strange moments.
Apr 12, 2014 Angela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my ideal type of book with psych/mystery combination. It is 1984ish but so much more. At times I almost started to agree with the evil ones or at least begin to see their side of things. I love the way the author describes the way people think and act. Percy had a lot happen in his life so had much to draw from. I am already on to read another of his books.
I liked this book. I did. It reminded me of Robertson Davies: You have to read with a twinkle in your eye.
That said, I had trouble in parts knowing what (or why something) was going on. In some ways it did feel like reading Flannery O'Connor (another review mentioned that) - like the author is holding up a veil and you only get to see a glimpse, maybe a clear one, but there's other stuff going on and you're too dumb or illiterate to catch it all. Still, thought provoking, as well as vocabulary
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Bayous & Psychotics 2 7 May 14, 2011 12:59PM  
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Walker Percy (1916–1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a US senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction t ...more
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“Small disconnected facts, if you take note of them, have a way of becoming connected.” 25 likes
“You are a member of the first generation of doctors in the history of medicine to turn their backs on the oath of Hippocrates and kill millions of old useless people, unborn children, born malformed children, for the good of mankind —and to do so without a single murmur from one of you. Not a single letter of protest in the august New England Journal of Medicine. And do you know what you’re going to end up doing? You a graduate of Harvard and a reader of the New York Times and a member of the Ford Foundation’s Program for the Third World? Do you know what is going to happen to you? . . . You’re going to end up killing Jews.” 4 likes
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