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The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

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With uncommon humanity, candor, wit, and erudition, award-winning author Andrew Solomon takes the reader on a journey of incomparable 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.

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, policymakers and politicians, drug designers and philosophers, 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 had 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.

The depth of human experience Solomon chronicles, the range of his intelligence, and his boundless curiosity and compassion will change the reader's view of the world.

576 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Andrew Solomon

50 books1,349 followers
Andrew Solomon writes about politics, culture, and health. He lives in New York and London. He has written for many publications--such as the New York Times, The New Yorker and Artforum--on topics including depression, Soviet artists, the cultural rebirth of Afghanistan, Libyan politics, and deaf culture. He is also a Contributing Writer for Travel and Leisure. In 2008, he was awarded the Humanitarian Award of the Society of Biological Psychiatry for his contributions to the field of mental health. He has a staff appointment as a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Cornell Medical School (Weill-Cornell Medical College).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,143 reviews
Profile Image for Jeff.
73 reviews23 followers
March 18, 2008
hands-down the best nonfiction book i've ever read, _the noonday demon_ is exhaustive in its examination of depression and mental illness, weaving the author's and others' experiences with "major depressive breakdown" with rigorous research on scientific, anthropological, evolutionary, political, artistic and historical perspectives on the emotion/disease.

solomon engages difficult philosophical questions like whether the blunting of depression by SSRIs is worth its cost in human emotional plasticity; whether depression is a disease of category or degree; whether suicide is a fundamental civil liberty or an action to be prevented at all costs; and how we might best address mental illness from a public health perspective, including why we don't treat it preventatively, as we do some other diseases.

solomon's brutal honesty about his own breakdowns and some of the shocking actions he took in often-misguided attempts to mitigate them is synthesized with heart-wrenching anecdotes drawn from thousands of interviews with depressives across all races, geographies, socioeconomic classes, ages, etc. to create a picture of a disease that is universally experienced and universally destructive, yet deeply individual/personal in its manifestations (social withdrawal being one of its primary symptoms).

written over five years, including the author's third (of three) breakdowns, _the noonday demon_ is not only extremely informative, but deeply elegant as a work of prose, using brilliant analogies, literary quotations, and an overarching tenor of compassion to explore depression with exceptional nuance.

everyone should read this book.
Profile Image for Leo ..
Author 3 books379 followers
June 5, 2021
Down, so down, oh! The sorrow, I could drown
Overwhelming emotions, crowding my mind
It gets me down, this mundane grind
Like groundhog day, perpetual recurrence
Day in, day out, such annoyance
I'm starting with the man in the mirror, the Abyss
Lose the Ego, and find my bliss

Depression sucks! I suffer with acute insomnia as a symptom. This is when I do a great deal of my writing during the witching hours. Here is one of my many rhymes:


 Tick Tock... Tick Tock...Tick Tock

In my head or simply on the wall the sound of the clock

Watching the hands go round and round

The constant repetition of that sound


Thoughts reverberating through my head

Over and over feelings of dread

Never ending like a silent pest

Will I ever get some needful rest


A crescendo of noise like a freight train through the night racing

A caged Tiger maddened and continuously pacing

An orchestra of voices distracting for sure

Falling asleep is such a chore


Oh! My sanity is waning for goodness sake

This feeling of being forever awake

Will I ever fall into slumber? Just a little sleep

And dream nice dreams and have memories to keep


The walls are watching, the ceiling, the floor

Oh! Is there anything that can cure?

This Insomnia that plagues me through the night

Eyes wide awake until it gets light


It's Four O'clock and outside birds are singing

And still in my mind bells are ringing

Yet deafening the silence around and within

Sleep! Sleep! Sleep! My consciousness needs healing



Just a snooze, even if fleeting

But all I can hear is my own heart beating

Eyes are sore and forehead throbbing

It's a forlorn melancholy like a Baby sobbing


My cat opens one eye with a curious look

As I churn through another chapter of a book

Yet tiredness does not descend on me still

Only a shudder from a sudden chill


Insomnia eats away at one's Soul

Black and endless like an ever expanding hole

It's the Witching Hour as I write this verse

I'll only sleep when I am lead in a Hearse


In a few hours it'll be time to rise...Oh! the emptiness and pain

And when the day is through...I'll do it all over again

By Leo.🐯👍

Depression: Man it sucks!

My soul, it is broken, will it ever be mended

I was once happy go lucky but, it has all ended

An empty shell, a void, a deep blue, a dried up husk

Once the life and soul of the party, from dawn to dusk

Now a sad-sack, melancholy, forlorn, no self esteem

Worthless, useless, no bloody good, unloved, without

No matter how I try, there is no doubt

I will fail, always, cos' that is what I do

Everything, every outcome, no hope it is true

I only hurt the ones I love, my family and my friends

This feeling of despair, repetition, it never ends

No sleep at night, thoughts racing through my mind

Monkey chatter, worries, scenarios of every kind

What if this? What if that? What will I do? Is it real?

If this happens, or that happens, fills me with a chill

A panic attack, a meltdown, spiraling out of control

Manic, incoherent, embarrassed, left feeling a fool

Stuck in a cycle, a box, a chasm, a rut

A recluse, the crazy old man, a loner, a nut

Watching the clock, tick, tock, tick, tock

Wasting away, no inspiration, or motivation, writers block

Hoping to escape the mediocrity, get recognition, the ball rolling, a start

Show my prose, the way I write, exclusively from my Heart

By Leo🐯👍👹

I remember an extreme episode of bipolar when a friend was criticising a book I like, no memory of the book but my response I will never forget.
"May I suggest try reading the book again only this time backwards. It might undo the heartache you have suffered."

I can be quite cutting and it really hits home. Can't see the woods for the trees or have no reason.


Suburban Rut

This little creepy man, lives in the flat below
The Council covertly moved him in, ten years ago
He is man who ticks all of their boxes, looked after
I often hear him, cackling, maniacal laughter
He hoards rubbish, we have rats and flies, an eyesore
He does not wash, and plays up, porn, extreme hard-core!
Stands behind his curtain, and his front door naked, deviant behaviour
But the left wing housing officer, is his saviour
Ignored our concerns, for this man needs supervision
He wanders around at night, and turns the sound up on his television
Peers through people’s letterboxes, a Peeping Tom, leering
We have complained about him for years, but nobody is hearing
A single word we say, we get accused of a hate crime
Yet he does his thing, all the time
We are left feeling like a fool
We live one hundred yards from a primary school!
They have been complaining, parents too
But he gets protected, it really is true
The police secured his front door, as he is apparently vulnerable
Not the preteens, who he watches, as they come home from school
I have extreme mental health issues too, bipolar and distress
And I have lived in my property for 30 years, what a mess
Bought it from the council in 2003
Ploughed blood, sweat and tears, and £40,000, into my property
And I am the villain, apparently, not he!
We installed CCTV, to catch him in the act, his friends also
The dirty drug dealers, in the next block over, imposing their Will, I think my head is going to Blow!
Have these people walked straight off the set of the Jeremy Kyle Show?
Hoarding rubbish, loud noise, every day is a party, it is driving me Insane
Building alliances with other neighbours, and pointing the finger of Blame
Suburbia is becoming a ghetto, and quirky is the new normal
Any rationale, is replaced with hate, now it is fine to be abnormal
Do as thou wilt, in this new paradigm, it is all inverted
Only criminals are helped, along with deviants, and people who are perverted
The drug dealers complained about our cameras, WTF! Really? OMG!
The left wing housing officer ordered us to remove them! Cheeky fucking SOD.
Since these people have been moved in, the area now is not nice
Needles, rubbish, noise, leering, violence and all types of Vice
I am so hoping I can leave this suburban Rut
As I write this poem, tremors cramp my gut
The bipolar is starting to kick in, I feel wired
But do not have any energy left, I am so tired
I find it really hard these days to get up and be inspired
When I am surrounded by hate, deviants, it is a swamp, a quagmire
Is there anybody? Who can give me some advice, aid me in any way?
To gain popularity for my prose, I have no income, only PIP, a pittance of pay
Took me eighteen months, such stress, to get it
Even though I paid in for years, a system that is Shit!
Numerous breakdowns, even tried to take my own life
And other residents have been threatened with violence, and a pulling of a knife
These scumbags, they don’t scare me, just make my life intolerable
They are cowards, who hide behind the Law
Even though they are the ones that constantly offend
It seems that in this new order, being like this is the trend
Reintegrated back into society, but they don’t have to change
The rest of us, have to adapt, it is very strange
The apathy is tangible, residents live in a bubble
Not really communicating, life is now a struggle
How much longer will the masses take?
We have to take back control, for our children’s sake
Politicians, law, acts and legality
Is bringing in a new dawn, a different reality
Where anything goes, it is ok to be different, no problem with that, it is fine
Is there a cut- off point? Where do we draw the line?
I have been warned, not to talk about it, how unfair
But it has gone on for so long now, I just don’t fucking care
The down stairs neighbour’s behaviour, is really taking its toll
He was spotted committing an act, with a Chinese Sex Doll!
But remember he is vulnerable, according to the left
And everybody else is bigoted, racist, and cruel at best
So what is to become of the majority of people?
Do we carry on with the acquiescence? Like robots or sheeple?
Are we as humanity completely free?
Can we say what we want? Is there transparency?
Do the leaders do a good job? Do they care? Are we in Fear?
Or are they looking out for number one, enhancing their career
I could write so much more, the words are now flowing
A myriad of scenarios, in my head, growing
Too many words for my fingers to catch up, follow
I keep pressing the wrong keys, and the words seem hollow
But I guess I must end, for words these days are limited, stifled, short
So I will end now, for I don’t want to get flagged, or put on report
By Leo
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,037 followers
February 9, 2015
"The survivors stay on pills, waiting... We go on. You cannot choose whether you get depressed and you cannot choose when or how you get better, but you can choose what to do with the depression, especially when you come out of it."
This was an incredible book that took me months to read, a dense mighty tome about depression. It weaves together the author's personal experience of multiple breakdowns and decades of treatments with other narratives, scientific research, historical background, and social context (and sometimes- literature!). Rather than try to summarize depression, he lets it stay messy as it really is, different for each person, with no clear path for treatment. I learned a lot, and hopefully my increased understanding will make me a better boss, a better faculty advisor, and a better friend.

This was also discussed on Episode 009 of the Reading Envy Podcast.

Google document of marked bits
Profile Image for Cari.
280 reviews147 followers
August 22, 2013
After slogging through a large chunk of The Noonday Demon, I've come to accept I just can't see it through to the end. This book is lethal: alternately depressing readers, boring readers, and making readers roll their eyes so hard they pop out of their heads.

First: depression on any level, mild or major, brief or chronic, is a painful, crippling ailment. Anyone who pulls themselves up and fights automatically earns a bit of my respect. I know how hard the attack is and how hopeless it can seem.

Too bad Solomon's battle resulted in this book. Self-absorption is a trademark of the genre; I expect that. But self-absorption is different from (and more tolerable than) self-pity, and Solomon's writing is solidly wallowing in self-pity whenever he's talking about himself. (And try be a little grateful, sir, for your good fortune to be born into privilege. Most of us weren't so damned lucky. Even the self-absorbed know when they've been handed a gift.)

A lot of the science, studies, and numbers discussed in The Noonday Demon are extremely outdated. Solomon used the best information he had at the time, but if you want up-to-date information of that sort, look elsewhere.

While there's nothing wrong with exploring alternative medicine, there's quite a bit of pseudo-science bullshit presented here, mixed in with actual facts, jumbled together in a way that could be downright dangerous. Very concerning.

And beyond all of this? So much of The Noonday Demon is dry and downright boring. The few engaging passages are nice, but a reader has to manage to stay awake first, and even then there's a sense that many of his personal anecdotes are told simply to be shocking, very much in the "Look how fucked up I was! Be amazed!" category. Maybe that works for some readers, but I'm not one of them.

I've learned many things from my own battle with major depression, one of which is appreciating the time I have to experience life. That's why I'm putting Solomon's work to the side: life's too short to waste it on finishing books like this.
Profile Image for Nataliya Yaneva.
165 reviews323 followers
January 13, 2021
Гледах за пръв път Андрю Соломон в една негова лекция за TED, наречена ‘Depression, the secret we share’ . Стори ми се леко странен човек, който гледа твърде втренчено и говори сравнително бавно, но подхожда с дълбочина и проникновение към темата. ‘The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression’ може да ви прозвучи като помпозно заглавие, но ви уверявам, че Соломон наистина не е написал нищо по-малко от изчерпателен атлас на това така недоразбрано психическо разстройство.
‘The most accurate statement that can be made on the frequency of depression is that it occurs often and, directly or indirectly, affects the lives of everyone.’

Често съм се питала защо, когато някой преживее лична трагедия, после става посланик именно за страдащите от същото. Твой близък починал от рак на гърдата, ти започваш да се занимаваш с благотворителност за хора с рак на гърдата. Ясно, боли те и искаш да помогнеш с нещо, но защо не помагаш на всички болни от рак? Или на инвалиди? Те по-малко ли заслужават? Доста по-късно осъзнах, че, разбира се, осмисляме света през някакво свое изкривено огледало – съзнание, душа, каквото щете, и вероятно такова нещо като пълно универсално състрадание няма, за жалост. Разбирането, което получаваме и можем да дадем, след като преживеем нещо конкретно, не може да се сравни със случайния избор на кауза или суховатото познание, натрупано по дадена тема. Убедена съм, че Андрю Соломон щеше да напише също толкова брилянтна книга за шизофренията например. В нея обаче щеше да липсва живецът на личното преживяване и прозренията на човек, който е стоял в преддверието на ада с надеждата никога да не види какво има от другата страна. Надежда, която не се е оправдала.
‘You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a grey veil and are seeing the world through the haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness, and that now you’re seeing truly. You try to pin the truth down and take it apart, and you think that truth is a fixed thing, but the truth is alive and it runs around.’

Винаги особено съм се впечатлявала, когато някой е създал нещо, влагайки исполински труд, а не просто съшивайки разни свити оттук-оттам кръпки, колкото за парите и славата. Депресията си става все по-модерна, макар и още замитана под килима тема, та вероятно доста нескопосани книги за нея се продават. Соломон ще ви разходи из всякакви аспекти на своето мащабно проучване – от това какво е да навлезеш в тежък депресивен епизод, през различни популации с депресия, ще покрачи внимателно по тънкия лед на темите за депресията и бедността и депресията и самоубийството, и ще ви преведе до методите за лечение и дори до така чаканата в края глава за надеждата. Ще намерите всякакви начини за справяне с депресия – антидепресанти и жълт кантарион, но и „десенситизация и повторна преработка на информация посредством движение на очите“ (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)). Ще прочетете и подробно описание на церемонията ndeup, която се извършва от местни жени в Сенегал. Включва коч, завиване на депресирания човек с двадесетина одеяла заедно с коча, заколване на коча и танци на жените около завития с коча човек, докато той бива налаган с млад петел (не помня дали петелът беше жив, надявам се, че не). Дано върлите привърженици на PETA да не са припаднали дотук. И да, Соломон лично се е подложил на тази церемония и я описва доста подробно, защото тя също е част от търсенето му как се справя светът с депресията.
‘It is often said that depression is a thing to which a leisured class falls prey in a developed society; in fact, it is a thing that a certain class has the luxury of articulating and addressing.’

Не е лесно да поседиш тихо в мрака на нечий ум, пише Андрю Соломон. Нърдът в мен веднага се присети за приятно злокобната игра Limbo , изградена изцяло от силуети и сенки, от които тръпки те побиват (ако имате арахнофобия или непоносимост към многокраки твари, моля, подходете с внимание към линка). Непознатото ни плаши далеч повече от ужасите, на които виждаме ясно всички пипала и очи. Често сме заложници на неща, които никак не разбираме. Това ми напомня и за диалога между Скрудж и призрака на съдружника му Марли в „Коледна песен“:
‘Why do you doubt your senses?’
‘Because,’ said Scrooge, ‘a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.’

Накрая исках да напиша няколко думи за надеждата. Така завършва и Андрю Соломон своята книга. Той съвсем открито признава всичките си недостатъци, но и вярва, че депресията го е направила по-стойностен човек – по-състрадателен, внимателен и неосъдителен. Казва, че е благодарен на депресията за познанието за себе си, което му е дала, макар в най-тежките си моменти никак да не е чувствал подобно извисяване на духа. Фройд смята, че меланхоличните хора имат по-остро око за истината от останалите. Има едно хубаво кратко клипче на BBC за депресията, в което едно момиче казва ‘I wouldn’t be who I am without depression and I love the person I am’. Някъде напред във времето бъдещите суперхора сигурно ще се чудят как не сме могли да лекуваме психични заболявания и ще съжаляват ограничените ни възможности, както ние днес съжаляваме средновековните люде, някога умирали на по 30-ина години от настинка. Без значение дали депресията е рудиментарна еволюционна останка, бъг на ума или необходимият сигнал за някого да спре и да потърси отново изгубената връзка със себе си, на нас, хората, винаги ни трябва мотивация да се вгледаме по-дълбоко в същността си. Понякога болката ни се струва безсмислена, друг път я приемаме, защото по-добре оценяваме щастието след нея. Шопенхауер твърди, че ако се събудим в някаква Утопия, ще умрем от скука или сами ще се обесим, че болката е естествен и необходим спътник в живота. Аз вярвам, че преди всичко не трябва да преставаме да търсим и да учим. За себе си и за света, за другите около нас, без значение дали това ни носи щастие или мъка.
‘Every day, I choose, sometimes gamely and sometimes against the moment’s reason, to be alive. Is that not a rare joy?’
Profile Image for Ed.
333 reviews30 followers
June 29, 2013
Probably the best book I have read for a long time. The War and Peace of depression. A compelling, comprehensive, personal, tightly written, passionate and well researched exploration of depression in all its darkness at noon dimensions. I read it too fast in a few sittings, because I found it so compelling. And I found huge insights in his experience;even the most extreme of his experiences, because he writes like a traveler back from a largely unexplored, often denied, uncomfortable not well reported on remote region deep inside at least a third of the population or 80% of Greenland Inuit who are clinically depressed...I particularly liked his insight that while much of our depression is rear-ward facing about past loss and trauma; there is also anxious darkness looking forward. Anxiety as forward looking depression. Seems obvious, but helpful. And the author tried almost every imaginable way to mitigate his massive, recurring depressive mental breakdowns: chemical, talking, spiritual, ECT; you name he tried it. Not a book for the faint-hearted or for those who think that the journey deep inside the self, or deep inside other peoples' horrendous depressions, is somehow self indulgent as I saw one reviewer write. And of course many people could not believe he was devoting years to writing about this topic, though in private, hundreds of people opened up to supply him with incredible accounts of their experiences, despite the societal discomfort with the whole subject. One of his colleagues even denied that he suffered from depression because he had such an obviously 'good life'. Yeh right.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
535 reviews138 followers
December 17, 2022
In depression, all that is happening in the present is the anticipation of pain in the future, and the present qua present no longer exists at all. (29)

Damn. It really do be like that sometimes, tho.

3 stars. Although the research findings are starting to show their age, this one remains worth a read for anyone suffering from this affliction and is worth perhaps even more for their family/friends.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,423 reviews8,304 followers
February 5, 2015
A piercing, painful, and oh-so-necessary book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression examines depression through a cultural, personal, and scientific lens. Andrew Solomon, well-known for his TED Talks and his varied publications, reveals the agonizing depths of the illness as well as its progression through time. His thoughtful and insightful perspective supplements his extensive research, and he analyzes several of depression's facets: how it spans different parts of the world, how it affects the brain and its neurotransmitters, its part in politics, its relation to suicide, and more. Solomon pairs facts with his own experience of depression and discusses the disease in unique ways, ranging from the gender dynamics of depression to its presence in those who live in poverty.

My one qualm with this book comes from Solomon's attitude toward those who face mental illness and commit violent acts. While I feel empathy for those who act out of an anger they cannot control, I repudiate any acceptance of abuse, physical or emotional, toward anyone. Solomon writes that he "[does] not accept" such hurtful behavior, but I wanted more of a stance than that. Despite this issue, Solomon's hope for reform and revitalization impressed me throughout the book, even in the face of bleak circumstances.

Recommended to those with even a remote interest in depression. Read The Noonday Demon if you want to understand a friend or family member's plight without asking them or pestering them; read this book if you want to understand a disease that devastates a great number of people. I cannot wait to read more of Solomon's writing.
Profile Image for Kasia.
209 reviews47 followers
May 12, 2016
And this ladies and gentlemen, is how you write about depression.
Profile Image for Meaghan.
1,096 reviews25 followers
April 21, 2009
This was a good book, but I found it more scholarly, less readable and harder to get through than similar books such as Peter Whybrow's A Mood Apart and Lewis Wolpert's Malignant Sadness. Perhaps this is because Solomon cites a lot of philosophers. He has extensive notes, but the book itself isn't footnoted; you have to go to the back and sort of guess what bits in each chapter the notes are referring to. That's frustrating. I do, however, think this book is valuable, particularly the chapter on illicit drugs and depression (unlike most people, Solomon doesn't just issue a blanket "don't do it" on substances but analyzes each one and what they can and can't do for depression), and his chapter on depression and poor people.
Profile Image for Joy.
1,184 reviews83 followers
April 16, 2010
I first read this shortly after it came out, and I remember liking it then. Apparently I have become a much pickier reader of nonfiction in the last decade, as I liked it much less this time around.

The Noonday Demon is unsatisfactory on a number of fronts. As science writing, it's insufficiently rigorous and awfully anecdotal; it tends toward summary and eschews proper footnotes in the name of "readability". I like footnotes and citations; I find most arguments for avoiding them in this kind of writing disingenuous at best. As memoir, it's too self-absorbed. No doubt this is partly a symptom of his condition, but Solomon's frequent blindness to his own privilege doesn't exactly help his case. And I care a lot less about Solomon's sex life than he appears to think I should.

On the other hand, it does succeed in capturing the raw experience of depression. The chronology of Solomon's breakdowns is especially effective. And Solomon does know how to turn a phrase.

Not a bad read, but not a good one. It's more a memoir than the subtitle might lead you to think; reader, be warned.
Profile Image for Kate Savage.
650 reviews112 followers
July 31, 2014
Abbreviation of everything below: I recommend reading the first two chapters and skimming the rest.

“I know nothing," the painter Gerhard Richter once wrote. "I can do nothing. I understand nothing. I know nothing. Nothing. And all this misery does not even make me particularly unhappy.” (45)

Solomon, in the middle of his own depression, went through a monumental effort to write this book. And my whine of it is that maybe he aimed a bit too monumental.

Solomon began the book strong, but a few hundred pages in the writing becomes a little mind-numbing. Long paragraphs where every sentence is eleven words long. He begins writing things like “the chances of eliminating depression through genetic manipulation any time soon are, I believe, thinner than thin ice” (172). First-chapter Solomon would never have allowed “thinner than thin ice.”

This could also be the fault of content. Solomon can really shine when he’s engaged in a lyrical explanation of how it feels to have depression, the subject of the first two chapters and also a bit of the very end. But his ambition to write an ATLAS of depression draws him out of his sphere of competence.

He's not a great science writer. He's focused on anecdotes and doesn't compellingly or clearly address the disagreements in the scholarly literature -- and while his own experience doesn’t go out of date 13 years on, that’s not the case with the neuroscience he's writing about. But this isn’t as bad as his attempt to write about the politics of mental health. He starts off by discounting Foucault with a facile misreading (Michel says hospitalizing the mentally diseased is just a way to stop the revolution, man! But he's wrong, because the depressed are bad revolutionaries!). This is particularly unfortunate because Foucault could have provided some tools for thinking through the quandaries that Solomon inevitably butts up against: should people have “the right to be depressed”? Won’t they thank us afterwards if we forcefully institutionalize them and fix ‘em up? Well, but also, admits Solomon, those hospitals are the most dreadful place imaginable and he would never want to be trapped in one. And wait -- who's going to make this decision? (And maybe “the right to be depressed” actually means the right to not be forcefully medicated, electroshocked, and locked up -- when you put it that way it doesn’t sound so crazy).

Through all of this, Solomon is spot-on in rejecting anyone who romanticizes depression. But I still feel uncomfortable with the ease with which he pushes psychopharmacological treatment. He mentions a recommendation in the New England Journal of Medicine that depressive symptoms lasting more than two months after the death of a loved one should be given antidepressant therapy, and I can’t help but think of Hamlet: “O heavens! Die two months ago and not forgotten yet? Then there’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive his life half a year.”

Oh and then -- then he has to go into the “evolution” section. Bring on the evo-psy. First we must understand the human animal as a rigidly hierarchical species. “Someone is always top dog; a society without a leader is chaotic and soon dissolves” (404). When you fight to improve your rank order and lose, it’s adaptive for you to be depressed so you don’t keep fighting and cause stress in the group. Sure, you could just as easily say humans are built for egalitarianism (and show instead that most societies reliant on rigid leaders are non-adaptive and, in the long run, dissolve), and perhaps the artificial introduction of extensive rank-order (following the invention of agriculture) builds depression into the system. Which is maybe why, after all, depression isn’t a disease of ambitious young men, but mostly of women and the elderly and the poor. But for some reason, it's not proper evo-psy if it's not weighted toward an apology for the worst characteristics of modern society.

To back a gee-whiz-we're-advanced hypothesis, Solomon argues that depression results from having so many choices in modern society: “In 1957, an average American supermarket had sixty-five items in the produce section: shoppers knew what all the fruits and vegetables were and had had each of them before. In 1997, an average American supermarket had over three hundred items in the produce section, with many markets pushing a thousand. You are in the realm of uncertainty even when you select your own dinner. This kind of escalation of choices is not convenient; it is dizzying” (409). He's probably right that there's something mentally unsettling in having to choose a job and religion and country to live in. But the produce-aisle argument was too much for me: we're expected to ignore the fact that for most of human existence we have been surrounded by explosive biodiversity. Next to a hunter-gatherer diet, the supermarket is a space of radical homogeneity. Our brains can handle 300 types of plants -- there’s something else that happens in the supermarket to depress you.

Solomon concludes with a tiresome “well anyway what’s natural?” argument, and a grasping attempt to say there’s a soul and there’s free will no matter what happens to the chemicals in our brain. It feels like he thinks he's a coach of a team of depressives and has to give us a slow-clap-worthy battle-speech before we go out on the field and fight our own brains. This is at odds with the better argument he makes, which is that depression can teach us to be more understanding and forgiving of others, because we can’t ever know what’s happening in the emotional life of another person, and how much ‘force of character’ -- whatever that means -- is required to keep a person kind and patient.

And then in addition to all this there's:

The Privilege Squirms:

Solomon seems to have been born into the owning class, which is also the home base of a lot of his buddies. To his credit, he works hard to dispel the myth that depression is a disease of the privileged. You still may find yourself squirming when you read about his friend finding relief from depression in childhood by having her parents buy her a pony.

Early on in the book, Solomon talks with a Cambodian refugee who works to treat depression in other refugee women. I thought this was a pretty good example of how to incorporate depression-diversity. A bad example would be when Solomon, using his generous book advance for ‘research,’ goes to Darkest Africa to undergo a traditional healing ceremony. Medical ethnotourism in search of a picturesque shaman. You’ll get the willies every time he says something like “Africa is a continent of incongruities” (168). Or says the African women “danced hysterically” (oh no, black ladies with wandering wombs!). Or after all the ram's blood and fire concludes “we came home with the buoyant feeling of having done something festive.”

Solomon brings up the idea that different races and ethnicities experience depression differently. Since depression is very much shaped by one’s culture, this is probably true. However, Solomon only supplies anecdotes -- ‘my friend, who’s Dominican, was like this’ -- which means he never moves out of the space of easy racial stereotypes. My guess is this does more harm than good.

Kudos to the man for having an entire chapter on poverty, how it encourages depression and how it complicates treatment. And yet I squirmed through the whole thing. One reason is because it’s always Othering to The Poors. The second is that within a limited, reformist politics Solomon has no choice but to be incoherent about solutions. Because he can’t say “Oh, end poverty, mental health shouldn’t be a commodity,” he has to instead find little pockets of ways governments could maybe give a little more funding here and there for an outreach program or two.

When he’s writing about women’s depression (the majority of all depression), he begins with a good and respectful explanation of the daily repressions and microaggressions women face in their daily lives, and how that can contribute to mental disease. He then, unfortunately, has to show he aint no looney feminist but rather a reasoned moderate, so he tries to reductio-ad-absurdum the writing of one feminist, and concludes another feminist’s quote with “and on and on and on” (177). Way to critique feminists by essentially putting fingers in his ears and saying “blah blah blah I can’t hear you.”

The main point being proffered by these wacko feminists (and by the existentialists, who receive much the same treatment from Solomon -- a very American rejection of the lot as just too dour to take seriously) is that there’s something non-pathological about being depressed when existence is the way that it is. Solomon later shows the research that depressives have a more accurate perception of themselves and of the world, and “mental health” is bought only at the price of embracing some illusions. The thinkers that Solomon rejects as too extreme -- like Camus -- actually work through this reality, while Solomon can only wobble back and forth between accepting the value of our depressiveness and embracing nevertheless some illusory Hope.

p.s. one more vote downwards for referring to a woman as “obscenely fat” (389). Her body isn’t an obscenity, bro.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,076 reviews52 followers
November 30, 2022
”If there is anything we’ve learned in the addiction field,” says Herbert Kleber, “it’s that once you get addicted — it doesn’t matter how you got there — you have a disease with a life of its own. If you treat a depressed alcoholic with an antidepressant, you produce a non-depressed alcoholic.” Taking away the original motivation for abusing substances does not free someone who has developed a pattern of substance abuse.

The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon won the 2001 National Book Award for Non-Fiction. Solomon is currently a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University but was not a medical professional when he wrote this blockbuster book that catapulted him into America’s mental health consciousness.

This book is about depression and it weighs heavily on the mind. Solomon lays bare the real facts about depression but with more of a message of hope and empathy than despair. It is a largely a personal memoir but includes stories of many other clinically depressed people that he personally interviewed. Solomon himself has depression and addictions. There are a surprising number of useful and well placed observations throughout the book. For example, alcoholism and drug abuse are not always related to depression. Even suicide is not always related to depression. Large overlaps for sure but the illnesses are often conflated.

There is a section in the book about his mother’s choice to end her own life. She was in the late stages of ovarian cancer. It is one of the most powerful chapters that I have ever read and it would be hard to imagine that anyone could read that chapter with dry eyes. Solomon could have written a whole book about his mother but wisely decided to tackle a whole atlas of issues.

There is another section on how poverty and depression are inter related. Professional psycho-analysis and medications are too expensive for most but society would actually benefit economically (and certainly morally) if we paid for and treated those who needed psychological help. For many of the unemployed, who have twice the rate of depression as the national average, it is first and foremost a mental health issue.

His musings on evolution and why depression is a trait that has survived genetically in so many people was intriguing. Solomon tries to explain it with a king of the hill analogy. Say someone attempts to overthrow/win control (through physical means or persuasion) of a group and fails badly. This results, in most of those who fail to supplant, in lower levels of serotonin. The lower serotonin feels very bad to the mind and body, effectively a mini-episode of depression. Thus if these genes survive then these people are less likely to try that again, thereby preserving their genes for posterity and saving their life and possibly the life of the king. It is not clear why there is a spectrum of depression and why there would be severe depression such that people might end their own life counteracting any benefits of the gene itself. Solomon tends to believe that modern life and the increase of control might have something to do with it. He gives examples of how the suicide rate amongst concentration camp survivors were higher than when they were in the camps experiencing the horrors first hand. Probably the most speculative chapter but thought provoking from an evolutionary perspective.

Solomon is a fabulous writer and this is a powerful book and especially insightful in gaining a better understanding of those loved ones and colleagues who may suffer from depression or addiction — about 1 out of every 4 persons.

5 stars. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Mircea Petcu.
85 reviews13 followers
February 18, 2022
Nu pot separa "Demonul Amiezii" de "Anxietatea" de Scott Stossel.
In primul rand, depresia si anxietatea apar de regula impreuna, sunt comorbide.
In al doilea rand, autorii au acelasi obiectiv: o descriere completa a bolii, de la experienta personala la tratamente si istoria bolii.
Profile Image for Jenny.
33 reviews
September 24, 2007
especially recommended for anyone who has ever dealt personally with depression. the scope that solomon attempts is vast, covering literature, history, psychology, sociology, politics, anthropology, etc etc. though many questions go unanswered, from the start he is honest about the intention of the book and it is not to give answers. if anything it is to raise questions. what we get is a valuable overview of a complex and misunderstood mental illness that can only help to further the dialogue.
Profile Image for Atila Iamarino.
411 reviews4,362 followers
March 6, 2016
Não fazia ideia do quão debilitante a depressão pode ser. Ótimo apanhado de causas, consequências e histórias por trás da depressão, em um embrulho auto-biográfico e com entrevistas que dão o lado humano da depressão. Menos acadêmico do que costumo ler, mas por isso mesmo deve interessar mais gente.
Profile Image for Katerina.
798 reviews682 followers
October 13, 2020
Прекрасное исследование Эндрю Соломона, посвящённое депрессии.

Мне нравится, как он сочетает личное и обобщающее — без лишних сантиментов, но очевидно вовлеченно. Особенно я отметила пассаж с общим смыслом «не могу сказать, что все страдающие от депрессии люди приятны и заслуживают сочувствия, но о неприятных я просто решил не писать» — поэтому, несмотря на очевидную сложность и мрачность темы, книгу читаешь с удовольствием, стараясь максимально вникнуть в содержание и даже что-то экстраполировать на свой опыт.

Соломон, в первую очередь, на собственном примере рассказывает, что значит страдать от депрессии, как лечиться, как говорить с окружающими о своём недуге, а затем освещает круг возможных проблем и последствий, разбирает чужой положительный и отрицательный опыт. Затрагиваются не только темы депрессии, но и смежные — суицид, селфхарм, бедность и другие. Все на понятных и очень ярких примерах, некоторые заставляют по-настоящему содрогаться; как писали ему первые рецензенты, «я не верю, что все это могло произойти с одним человеком».

В этой книге, как и в его флагманском исследовании об отцах и детях, очень много личных историй разных людей, от богачей до бездомных, от замотанных матерей-одиночек до внешне вполне успешных и любимых граждан. География исследования тоже весьма обширна: в поисках лекарства от депрессии автор побывал и у инуитов, и у африканцев, и в лучшей клинике Нью-Йорка.

Историй, действительно, много, и если кому-то удается победить свою болезнь, то другие живут с ней всю жизнь и учатся хотя бы выживать. Самая трагичная глава, на мой взгляд, — это история болезни и смерти матери Соломона, хотя она с депрессией связана лишь по касательной.

В общем, слушая эту книгу, я очень много думала, и рекомендую ее всем, кто интересуется вопросами душевного здоровья и, например, поисков смысла жизни.

Книга переведена на русский, а в аудиокниге подобрали рассказчика, чей голос очень похож на голос самого автора (можно сравнить, тк Far from the Tree уже он сам начитал).
Profile Image for Ioana Crețu.
171 reviews23 followers
January 15, 2020
Uimitor de complexă, chiar ținând cont că subiectul permite.
„ Poate că depresia poate fi descrisă cel mai bine ca durere emoțională care ne ia în stăpânire fără voia noastră, și apoi se eliberează de împrejurările exterioare. Depresia nu este doar multă durere; prea multă durere însă se poate transforma în depresie. Suferința psihică este depresie proporțională cu împrejurările; depresia este suferință psihică disproporționată față de circumstanțe. Este o suferință ca buruiana rostogolită de vânt, care se hrănește cu aer, crescând în ciuda desprinderii de pământul hrănitor.
Oricine a simțit uneori o emoție disproporționată declanșată de o chestiune măruntă sau a simțit emoții a căror origine este obscură sau poate că nici n-aveau origine. Uneori procesele chimice apar fără nici un motiv exterior. Dacă aceste sentimente durează zece minute, sunt o stare de spirit ciudată și iute trecătoare. Dacă durează zece ore, sunt o stare ce tulbură - iar dacă durează zece ani, sunt o boală care te face inapt.

Nu e nefiresc să plângi, dar nu e firesc să îzbucnești în lacrimi pentru că o muscă ți se așază pe frunte, așa cum l-am văzut făcând pe un melancolic. Ca și cum ar fi fost lăsat un văl între el și obiecte. Și, cu adevărat, văl mai gros decât al interesului secat nici că ar putea fi pus între el și ele. Starea sa este - pentru el însuși - uimitoare și de neînțeles. Făgăduințele religiei și consolările filozofiei - atât de însuflețitoare când n-ai nevoie de ele și atât de neînstare să ajute când ai cea mai mare nevoie de ajutorul lor - nu-s pentru el decât vorbe fără înțeles.”
Profile Image for Sarah.
35 reviews28 followers
February 25, 2011
I bought this book a few months ago at an amazing used bookstore in New Orleans. I guess it had been improperly shelved in the religion section. Amazing book for anyone who has struggled with clinical depression or has family/friends with depression/bipolar disorder. Addresses the subject partially anecdotally, but also from sociological, biological, economic, and historical perspectives.

There have many eloquent and accurate reviews of this book (by Joyce Carol Oates, William Styron, Edmund White, Harold Bloom, James Watson, Naomi Wolf and many others), however I particularly like Christine Whitehouse of Time Magazine's review: "The book for a generation...Solomon interweaves a personal narrative with scientific, philosophical, historical, political and cultural insights...The result is an elegantly written, meticulously researched book that is empathetic and enlightening, scholarly and useful...Solomon apologizes that 'no book can span the reach of human suffering.' This one comes close."
Profile Image for Mahmut Homsi.
93 reviews88 followers
February 23, 2016
هذه المراجعة هي تلخيص و ليست تقييماً للكتاب

الاكتئاب قديم قدم الإنسان .. حينما بدأ الإنسان يعي ماحوله و يعي نفسه بدأت معه معاناة الاكتئاب
الاكتئاب المرض الذي يستحي منه الجميع ! يخجلون به و كأنه ضعف شخصي أو فشل اجتماعي
الاكتئاب الذي يختزل الماضي و المستقبل في الحاضر .. لا نتذكر متى كنا سعداء آخر مرة .. و لا نستطيع أن نتخيل أن نكون سعداء مرة أخرى
الاكتئاب ملازم للحب .. هو آلية إنسانية للحب .. نحن نحزن على خسران من نحب .. الاكتئاب هو هذا الحزن .. هو آلية هذا الحزن
الاكتئاب هو الغطاء الذي يمنعنا من سماع صوت الطيور .. من التمتع بدفء الشمس .. يحجب عنا معنى الحياة
الاكتئاب ليس عكس السعادة .. بل هو عكس الحياة.. الاكتئاب يمنعك من أن تكون حيّاً

قد نظن أن المجتمعات المتقدمة و الغنية هي وحدها من تُصاب بالاكتئاب .. و أن الاكتئاب مرض الرفاهية و ضريبة الحياة المترفة
قد نجد فعلاً في الإحصاءات أن نسبة الاكتئاب في العالم الغربي مثلاً مرتفعة عن نسبته في العالم الشرقي .. ربما
و لكن هل هذا يعني أن نسبة الاكتئاب عندنا أقل ؟ حتماً لا
في العالم الغربي هناك إحصاءات دقيقة.. معظم الناس إن كانت فعلاً مكتئبة ستجيب بنعم.. جزء كبير من علاج المشكلة هو إدراكها
و أما عندنا للأسف .. فلا أحد يجيب.. قد يكونون مكتئبين و هم غير مدركين لذلك.. قد يظنون أن الاكتئاب هو دليل على نقص الإيمان.. قد يستحون من الإجابة
هناك أسباب عديدة تدعو الإنسان المشرقي لإنكار أنه مكتئب.. و لهذا لا يوجد إحصائيات دقيقة ذات مصداقية لانتشار الاكتئاب في العالم العربي

نقطة أخرى حساسة
هناك شعور عام بأن الاكتئاب سببه البُعد عن الله.. و التفلت الأخلاقي و عدم الالتزام بالدين
و أن المؤمن لا يُصاب بالاكتئاب ! و كأن الاكتئاب هو عقوبة إلهية
طبعاً الناس المتدينون أقل عُرضة للاكتئاب و أسرع شفاء إن أُصيبوا به
لماذا ؟ لأن الدين ببساطة يجيب عن الأسئلة التي لا جواب لها .. لأن الدين له أرضية صلبة
لأن الدين يجعلنا نحتمل ما لا يُحتمل .. لأن الدين مبني على فكرة الآخرة و العدل و أن كل ظلم في الدنيا سيصفى حسابه يوم القيامة
و لكن هذا لا يعني أن المؤمن لا يُصاب بالاكتئاب .. الاكتئاب هو سرطان الذهن .. كما أن للجسد سرطان .. للروح سرطان أيضاً
الاكتئاب له ميل وراثي .. الأم المصابة بالاكتئاب قد تورث لأطفالها هذا المرض
قد تورثه لهم عبر الجينات .. أو عبر التربية أيضاً
هناك أشخاص قابلون للإصابة بالاكتئاب أكثر من أشخاص آخرين.. هناك من يستطيع التغلب عليه .. و هناك من لا يستطيع
العوامل الخارجية و الظروف لها تأثير كبير بالاكتئاب .. و لكن أحياناً ينشأ الاكتئاب من غير سبب
هناك أناس مكتئبون مع أن حياتهم تمشي كما يريدون.. و لكنهم مكتئبون

كيف تطور الاكتئاب ؟
هناك 4 نظريات تفسر سبب تطور الاكتئاب عند الإنسان
أولها: أن الاكتئاب قد كان موجوداً عند أجدادنا البشر الذين عاشوا مهددين بأخطار خارجية كثيرة و طوروا هذه الآلية لحماية أنفسهم و أخذ حذرهم و لم نعد الآن بحاجة له لأن الحضارة البشرية تقدمت و انتقلنا من العيش في الغابات و الكهوف للعيش في المدن
ثانيها: أن الضغط و الهموم التي تمليها الحياة المدنية الحديثة غير متناسبة مع قدرة الدماغ على التحمل و التأقلم
فالإنسان الآن معرض لضغوط نفسية و اجتماعية كبيرة بالإضافة إلى وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي و العولمة
هذه الحياة تتطلب منا أن نكون كالحواسيب أو كالروبوتات .. كل شيء مجدول و مخطط ضمن مواعيد و إملاءات زمنية
ثالثها: أن الاكتئاب هو آلية مفيدة تؤدي بالإنسان إلى النضج و النمو و تجعله يبتعد عن الأخطاء التي وقع فيها سابقاً و تفرض عليه أن يأخذ حذره جيداً في المستقبل
رابعها: الجينات المسؤولة عن إطلاق عملية الاكتئاب مسؤولة أيضاً و بنفس الوقت عن إطلاق عمليات أخرى مفيدة
كالحزن مثلاً .. أو الندم .. أو الألم فالاكتئاب إذن جزء من عملية معقدة لا تتجزأ

ما هو علاج الاكتئاب ؟
هناك عدة علاجات للاكتئاب تختلف باختلاف حالة المريض المكتئب و مدى شدة اكتئابه
هناك أولاً العلاج الذاتي: هناك مرضى يعالجون أنفسهم بأنفسه�� من خلال الوعي الذاتي
يحددون منشأ مشكلتهم .. ما دوافع اكتئابهم ؟ ما هي مشاكلهم و همومهم ؟
هل هذا الاكتئاب و القلق منطقي ؟ أم أنه مبالغة ؟
يغيرون من طريقة كلامهم مع أنفسهم .. يتذكرون النعم الت�� يتمتعون بها و يحاولون جاهداً ألا يكونوا سوداويين
و هناك ثانياً العلاج الإدراكي : جلسات محادثة مع طبيب نفسي مختص .. يتحدث المريض بصراحة مع الطبيب
عن حياته.. ظروفه .. مشاكله .. و يوجهه الطبيب و يستمع له
أحياناً الاستماع وحده قد يكون كاف للعلاج .. أحياناً جو الثقة و الأريحية قد يشفي المكتئب
فالاكتئاب يزداد كلما عزل المكتئب نفسه عن المجتمع و احتفظ بهمومه لنفسه
و أحياناً يوجه الطبيب المريض لاتخاذ خطوات معينة تساعده على تجاوز حالته
و هناك ثالثاً: العلاج الدوائي.. مجموعة من الأدوية التي تؤثر في الجملة العصبية في المخ
يشرحها الكاتب بشكل تفصيلي و هي تؤدي إلى إعادة التوازن الكيميائي العصبي للمخ و خصوصاً الناقل العصبي الذي يدعى بالسيروتونين
و هناك رابعاً جلسات العلاج الكهربائي و هي للحالات المتقدمة و ذات تأثير أكبر و الآثار الجانبية أقل
و هناك أخيراً الجراحة العصبية.. بالتداخل على بعض المناطق المخية المسؤولة عن إطلاق عملية الاكتئاب

طبعا إلى الآن لا يوجد علاج شاف للاكتئاب.. و ليس هناك حل جذري للتخلص منه
فما دام الإنسان واعياً باكتئابه لا يمكن لدواء أو كهرباء أن تقنعه بأنه سعيد ! و لكنها مفيدة جداً و تحسن من حالة المكتئب و تجعل حياته قابلة للتحمل
هناك مرضى يتعالجون طوال حياتهم بأدوية الاكتئاب و لا يستطيعون ترك العلاج لأنهم بمجرد تركه يعود الاكتئاب لهم
و المشكلة في العلاج الدوائي أن له آثار جانبية .. و أكثر من ذلك أن الشخص يتغير بعد علاجه
لذلك كثير من المرضى لا يلتزم بالعلاج لأنه يشعر بتهديد لهويته.. يشتاق لنفسه القديمة.. يحس أنه مزيف

Profile Image for Sara.
140 reviews42 followers
May 22, 2007
Depression: more complicated than the Lexapro ads would have you believe.

An intelligent and very thorough interdisciplinary introduction, but with a publication date of 2002, it hews pretty close to the serotonin-oriented theories of depression (although Solomon does a nice job of explaining how very little is known about how Prozac-generation antidepressants actually work, even though they clearly DO work). Since then, medical research has gone on to explore models of depression that explore the role of early and repeated stressors -- models with similarities to post-traumatic stress disorder that explore the role of chemicals like adrenaline in depression. None of that is in this book.

Still, Solomon's work on the social contexts of depression is what makes this worth reading. Solomon is at his best when he puts religious notions of the sins of accedia and sloth, and puritan ethics of hard work, careful forethought and stoicism together with the puzzle of a "brain disease" that would render someone incapable of adhering to those standards.

NB: if you're currently experiencing depression, this is not the book for you, both because of its density and because Solomon is drawn to cases of idiomatic or treatment-resistant depression, meaning that the prognosis for depression winds up looking a bit bleaker than it is for the general population.
Profile Image for Ana-Maria Beșa.
44 reviews28 followers
August 20, 2019
"Fapt este că existențialismul e la fel de adevărat ca depresivitatea. Viața e fără rost. Nu putem ști de ce suntem aici. Iubirea e totdeauna imperfectă. Singuratatea persoanei fizice nu poate fi pusă în discuție. Indiferent ce facem pe acest pământ, vom muri. Este un avantaj selectiv capacitatea de a accepta aceste realități, de a întoarce privirea către alte lucruri și de a merge mai departe - de a trudi, a căuta, a găsi si a nu ceda. [....] Sunt oameni pentru care aproape nu există perspective de viață mai bună. Și totuși, trăiesc! Ei stau fie sub semnul unei fatale orbiri, care-i face să nu cedeze în lupta pentru existență, fie a unei viziuni care mă depășește. Depresivii au văzut lumea prea clar, și-au pierdut avantajul selectiv al orbirii."
Profile Image for Randy Mcdonald.
75 reviews13 followers
November 14, 2012
Andrew Solomon’s 2001 book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression is the book that made Solomon’s name internationally, a survey of depression that avoids the survey’s flaws of superficially recounting its symptoms, its history, its treatments.

The Noonday Demon is a comprehensive survey of the issue that begins powerfully by recounting his own experiences: when his depressions began, what triggered it, what it felt like, what worsened it, what could start to make it better. Without his personal admissions, the book would have been a useful tome, a survey of depression’s treatments and history and sociology written in the clear entertaining style one would expect from a writer for The New Yorker. Solomon’s accounts of his depression made it more than this, describing the subjective experience of depression to his non-depressed readers.

The experience of depression is such a hard thing to communicate to one’s well-meaning friends and partners and families, the ways in which life loses its interest and its balance, either accelerated into a frenzy as the sufferer looks for some sort of distraction or decay into the hopeless lethargic passage of painful moments. Depression has been too often been presented in a romantic fashion; Solomon strips the romance away and presents the experience of depression in print perhaps as well as anyone can.

After his feat of autobiography, Solomon goes on to describe the disease in full. Depression, he demonstrates, is fundamentally a biological disease, a product of the failure of neurons and neurotransmitters, and is often very successfully treated on those terms. Depression also has to be understood as a cultural phenomenon, though, as an illness that has often been seen as a cultural artifact—others have seen depression as laziness, as malaise or boredom, even as something fashionable—and as an illness that is the product of isolation of one kind or another. Solomon’s examination of the different populations that have been especially prone to depression—the poor, subjected to terrible suffering and isolation; women, treated at best as second-class citizens and more frequently as objects who should know their place and be politely quiet; gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, despised because of the people they happen to love; ethnic and racial minorities, suffering the experience of knowing that they’re not wanted by the societies where they live—makes it clear that depression is at least as much a function its sufferers’ social experiences as of their physical ills. Sometimes, there are good reasons for people to be depressed; sometimes, it would be surprising for someone not to be depressed.

That’s why I found it heartening that The Noonday Demon went on to explore the many different ways in which people can recover from depression, by finding ways to talk about their experiences and to have other people react in constructive ways. Self-help groups led by Inuit community leaders in Greenland, shamanistic rites among Senegal’s Wolof, talk therapies like group therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy, public health bureaucracies which identify mental health as a serious problem—there are any number of ways to deal with and to help heal depression, all of which involve recognizing it as a serious but treatable health issue.

My single biggest issue with The Noonday Demon is the degree to which Solomon talks about depression itself as a cure of sorts, as something that people can learn from and use to better themselves. Maybe—certainly the treatments available help people understand their psyches better. That’s all that they do, however. Some people may survive depression intact, some people might even thrive with the skills they’ve acquired, but what about all the people who don’t make it? Surviving a serious illness like depression might be cause for celebration, but any improvements come at too high a price.

Still, Solomon has succeeded wonderfully. He introduced his readers to depression via his own personal experiences; he examined depression’s origins; he examined ways different people coped; he examined the hopes for effective treatment. Solomon succeeded in his project of explaining depression, indeed defining it in a way that the world can understand. I’m so glad that he did that. If you’re interested in mental health issues, or even if you’re curious about the human mind, pick this book up.
Profile Image for l..
491 reviews1,977 followers
January 5, 2019
Before you read on, be aware that the paragraphs I quote could have potentially triggering content, so please skip those if need be. Your mental—and physical—health are what is most important.
“Every second of being alive hurt me.”

Reading The Noonday Demon was an incredibly enlightening, educational, ingratiating, and above all emotional experience. It is not an easy book to read, and it is definitely not suited for people who aren’t willing to commit to the entirety of the ups and downs it so thoroughly presents, the dark situations and mindsets it lays bare, as well as the various stories from different people who have gone through, and/or are still going through depression.
“(…) it’s dark. You are falling away from the sunlight toward a place where the shadows are black. Inside it, you cannot see, and the dangers are everywhere (it’s neither soft-bottomed nor soft-sided, the abyss). While you are falling, you don’t know how deep you can go, or whether you can in any way stop yourself. You hit invisible things over and over again until you are shredded, and yet your environment is too unstable for you to catch onto anything.”

Its almost 600 pages contain twelve different chapters that are all rich in detail—often overwhelmingly so—and each examine different aspects of depression, swiftly demonstrating how it is part of everyone’s lives—not just of that of the depressed person—infiltrating it knowingly, or unknowingly (but predominantly the latter).

Andrew Solomon details his own descents into the depths of his depression, as well as other depressives’ stories of their experiences with it, and it made this book so much more than mere scientific research; The Noonday Demon’s contents ring true, at times all-consuming with their bleakness.
“(…) a loss of feeling, a numbness, had infected all my human relations. I didn’t care about love; about my work; about family; about friends. I found myself burdened by social events, even by conversation. It all seemed like more effort than it was worth. I felt my control over my own life slipping.”

It is so incredibly important that mental illnesses not be stigmatized, and actually be recognized as an illness, rather than something “to get over”. People who are sick with the flu, have a broken bone, or suffer from migraines, all elicit sympathy and compassion—people who suffer from depression, or any mental illness for that matter, should, too.

No matter how much of this atlas of depression you read, whether you decide to skip parts—it is so worthwhile. We may not always be able to help someone in the way we want to, and most mental illnesses are here to stay as long as the person who is afflicted with it, but we can always remember to be kind and understanding.

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Profile Image for Morgan Blackledge.
554 reviews1,904 followers
September 9, 2017
This is an amazing book by an amazing writer and all around lovely, soulful human being Mr. Andrew Solomon.

The subject is utterly important, as all of us either have or have had depression, or know someone who has or has been afflicted. It's a serious matter in which lives may hang in the balance, making this unique insiders view absolute required reading.

That being said, I am sooooooo dang glad to be finished with this book. I'm not trying to scare anyone away from the book, but I would feel remiss if I neglected to equip the would-be reader with the necessary info to make an informed choice.

Simply put, this book is really really depressing.

A Chinese proverb states that those with weak stomaches should not overturn rocks in the grass [because there's usually hella gross bugs under them].

I paraphrased the first part and added the last part. But I remain faithful to the analogy which essentially refers to the fact that; if you go digging around in to difficult material, expect to encounter difficult feelings, reflections, realizations etc.

If you're familiar with the process of psychotherapy, you may agree that this can be transformative. But if you're susceptible to depression you also know that exposure to certain narratives (your own or others) can stoke the smolder of melancholia.

Noonday Demon is not for the cowardly, or faint of heart. But if you're willing to paddle into the heart of everyday darkness, than by all means, come aboard.

Noonday Demon is good, really really good. But it's not as good as his most recent book Far From The Tree.

There......I said it. Why beat around the bush. It's just not quite as masterful, wise, mature, ambitious etc. But it is excellent and I'd say essential at this juncture if you're interested in the subject.

My chief complaint about the book is that it's a bit dated.

The focus on psychoanalysis is so last millennium.

Listening to psychoanalytic explanations for depression is like listening to nails on a chalk board. Which might have been forgivable if it weren't for the dearth of fair coverage of other (actually) effective treatments for depression, like CBT (particularly behavioral activation and recent third wave variants).

It's not the authors fault. Neuroscience and psychology have advanced tremendously in the 15 or so odd years since the book has been written. But still. There's other, more recent books out there that do cover depression in a more up to date way, and I would hate for any reader to take what is written in this book as the final word.

The interviews, historical work and autobiographical sequences is where this book shines.

The authors experience as a novelist shows. Like Nabokov, Solomon gives you the POV experience of the depressive. By the end you'll have increased empathy.

Anyone who has ever told someone to "cheer up" or "just snap out of it" should be court ordered to read this. You literally can't read this book and maintain that attitude. It's like telling a paraplegic to get up and dance.

Anyway. Read it. Expect some dark feelings to seep into your daily life. Don't worry it's worth it. By the end you'll be enriched.
Profile Image for Joshua Buhs.
647 reviews104 followers
March 6, 2016
Deep in the book, Solomon confronts the spiritual ancestor of his own tome, Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," and his assessment of it is also an assessment of "The Noonday Demon": mixing "a millennium of thought and a steady supply of scattered personal intuitions, [Anatomy] is a subtle, self-contradictory, badly organized, hugely wise volume."

The NoonDay Demon purports to be an atlas, which is a genre not widely written or read anymore--atlases are reference material. But this is a book that is meant to be read, rather than used to get a lay of the land (or overview of some topic). Solomon had written for the New Yorker by the time this book came out, and his style showed the hallmarks of 1990s New Yorker-style: a really hungry Jack Webb. Not "Just the facts, ma'm," but "all the facts, ma'm," and a visible straining for Important Cultural Insights (TM). Which is to say the book is over-written in the extreme, stuffed with anecdotes and every manner of detail.

Which is not to say the book doesn't have its subtleties, hidden among the vast acres of verbiage. Solomon does as good a job as possible of describing what depression is like for those who suffer it, reaching for a succession of metaphors: falling, vines, rusting, while admitting that these metaphors are limited in their explanatory power (29). It made me think of Elaine Scary's "The Body in Pain" and how pain is such a brute, primitive fact that it cannot be put into words except in the form of cliche; depression is pain of different sort: soul pain, Solomon suggests, and so also escapes transformation into words.

He notes both in the early chapters and the the last--on hope--that there is something about depression that makes it recalcitrant to explanation. Cognitive Behavior Therapists want to make it into a series of "errors of thought," but it is more than that, something that sucks meaning from the inside, leaving the sufferer empty and unconnected. Demon is as good a metaphor as any--perhaps better than most--and Solomon senses this connection, obviously, with the title, but he doesn't follow it up.

Which is a problem more generally with the book: that the subtleties are not fully developed, but remain half-whispered. The book is clearly of the time, published in 2001, but written the five years before, it is impossibly entangled with the question of SSRIs and drug therapies, which so consumed the nation during that decade. (Anyone remember "Prozac Nation?") Drugs brought up a lot of questions about the nature of depression: was it really an organic disorder, or should sufferers just buck up? Was this a "fake" pathology, like chronic fatigue syndrome (which is not fake, but was thought to be)? Were Americans just looking for a quick, technomedical fix to something that needed more intensive intervention? For many sufferers, the drugs legitimized the disease--it's real, like diabetes!--but were also loathed: making sufferers dependent, maybe even addicted, and twisting their other, seemingly innate, emotions, their sex drive, their sense of joy when they weren't depressed.

Solomon's fixation on drugs--heightened no doubt by the fact that his father worked for a pharmaceutical company that puts out one--limits in many ways what he has to say about depression. He is expansive in his definition of what counts as depression--linking bipolar disorder here, too, which feels odd--and relying on scientific definitions. He is insistent that depression is not a disease of modernity but can be found throughout history--which is debatable, but fine. The problem comes from his unwillingness to contextualize the different understanding of disease (except in one Balkanized chapter), treating it as a transhistorical category, one that would always, everywhere be amenable to drugs.

He does very little, in short, to challenge prevailing notions of depression, which means that the disease is always weighted with the moral freight it has carried for a long time. He acknowledges this but cannot quite escape the dilemma, though he tries. He has an extended chapter on "alternative" treatments that has him trying out an animistic cure in Senegal. He doesn't think much of the philosophy behind it, but does like the ritual and connection it engenders. Indeed, buried in the book is an etiology of depression that escapes much of the talk enforced by discussions of drugs. That depression comes from a lack of connection; and that even faking connection, or doing work, can help overcome it: work and connection forcefully creates meaning where none seem to exist. It is another one of the subtle threads Solomon does not follow.

Which is a shame, because his best chapters are the ones where the subtle critique breaks through, and Solomon challenges the very categories that his atlas seeks to reify: the paired chapters on addiction and suicide. Solomon covers in these his own extensive experience with drugs and alcohols, and his own suicidal thoughts, measures these against prevailing ideas, and finds the common sense wanting. Addiction, he notes, is very sharply culturally dependent--drunkenness accepted in widely different amounts across space and time--and that therapists and clients often want very different thinks when trying to treat addiction: the therapist aims for abstinence, the addict for control--the ability to imbibe again, to get the high, without letting the drug take over. He also rejects out of hand the notion that suicide is necessarily tied to depression, or that it is always and forever a sign of insanity. Sometimes it is impetuous; sometimes it comes from errors of thought; sometimes it is a reasonable option.

One wishes, reading this book, that these ideas could have been made in a shorter span, not only condensed but re-organized--the book's organization as an atlas is frustrating to generating meaning and full understanding. Why is the history of depression its own chapter, way at the back of the book? Why is there a chapter on populations, but then a separate one on poverty? Does the just-so stories of sociobiology provide any real insight into depression? (It must have been selected for. It must serve some reproductive advantage?) Is this chapter pushed toward the end because of embarrassment? It really makes no sense coming after a chapter on politics.

The separation of themes, the scattering of stories, these disguise the fact that the book itself is self-contradictory. Like his spiritual ancestor Robert Burton, Solomon sees no problem with proposing a thousand different points, but not bothering to really reconcile any of them. That is true with the way historical understanding of the disease is not separated from the experiential description of depression--in Solomon's hands, it is only big thinkers influenced by history, But individuals, too, have a historical understanding of their disease, right or wrong. The clearest contradiction, though, is in the place one would most likely find it: the introduction and conclusion.

Solomon presents his thesis in the very first sentence. It is not a big enough thesis to encompass all he will discuss, but it does seem to be the red thread he will try to follow throughout: "Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair." I don't really buy that description, but there it is, his idea. Except that when he concludes, more than four hundred pages later, he offers this: "The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality." These are both poetic expressions,which hides the slippage between them. How does vitality solve love's flaw? It's never quite clear--just as, even after all these pages, it's never quite clear what Solomon is trying to say.

And yet, and yet, there is huge wisdom, there is bravery, and there may even be clues to an answer. Solomon is willing to strip himself bear and expose the many hardships of his depression: not only the depression, the raining of meaning from his life, but the things he did under its influence, unprotected sex in hopes of contracting HIV, the many drugs, the self-loathing for being indolent when he had no excuse, no reason for being messed up. He describes the many people who have suffered depression under varying conditions--including an extended description of a woman who tried to piece her life together after the horrors of surviving Cambodia' Killing Fields.

He notes--page 27--the Depression in its modern version is often partly the result of measuring our lives against an insane model of happiness promoted by the media; he points out how susceptible depression is to placebo: since it is a cyclical process, it will resolve on its own, leaving the sufferer to thank whatever activity they were doing at the time; he butts up against William James's idea that the best solution to depression is belief--even if the belief is forced or fake--though he otherwise gives James short-shrift (both 137); he is fascinated by Schopenhauer ("Life is a business whose returns are far from covering the cost") and points to his remedy: work (316); he is aware of the orectic monster that is pharmaceutical capitalism, and the surreal world which it creates--for itself and others--though he stops short of using that as a reason to be skeptical of its creations (which may be a reasonable response) (396); he does confront--even if he's not sure what to do with--the "complicated ways that particular vulnerability [to depression] interacts with personality" (428): meaning it's never clear what depression will reveal about a person, once it sets in, and again when it leaves, though he mostly thinks it makes good people better and bad people worse (431).

He recognizes the need for humor, even in the face of depression, which seems impossible, but underlines it with the existential point that any depressive would understand: you don't get the time back (430). He even acknowledges that depression may have its rewards--though he is not so deluded that he thinks it is worth it, none of this I am so glad I got this debilitating disease crap. Rather, he understands that depression makes a person see the world form a different perspective, one denied other people. Depressives, for instance, often have a more accurate view of the world and themselves than others. Mild over-optimism is common trait, just not one shared by most depressed people (433). Depression will often make people more sensitive, more empathetic, and more ready to experience joy when it finally comes to them.

This last thought is what leads him to think vitality is the solution to depression, but makes me think in a very different way. (It's a sign of a good book that it offers evidence both for its author's views and for other ways to think.) Again and again, I was struck by how often the word "I" is used in the book. Depression, for everything else it might be, is a kind of solipsism, an unwavering gaze on a person's self, and the many ways to doesn't measure up to the world, and the many ways it no longer fits into a world which has no (inherent) meaning. So one solution is vitality--to insist on meaning--even if this don't solve the problem as it was set out to begin with. Another way, though, is to give up on the idea of the self, and its need to be coherent and whole and happy. To understand that the self is not a single unit, but arises each moment, depending upon conditions, and disperses the next, carrying some of what was in the past, losing much, and gaining other things.

This answer is more radical than the one that Solomon offered, and may not work for everyone. But it is a solution that may have been hiding in plain sight.

Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,028 reviews391 followers
June 11, 2022
(Lots of notes inflate the page count. Don't be intimidated; read this book.)

The first thing of concrete value that I am getting out of this is the importance of staying on your medications, if you take them. We may need to change the cocktail, we may need to take mini 'vacations', but don't taper off, and def. don't quit. We're basically messing with our brains, our most valuable parts of our bodies, and we don't want to make things even worse with cyclic treatments. The author explains it much better, more convincingly... I just wanted to tell us *now* in case any of us were thinking about trying to make a go of it with less medication.
Once in awhile the author misses the point. For example, he does acknowledge that he has very good insurance and an incredible network of supportive friends and family. But he also characterizes those of us who use St. John's Wort as choosing it because it's 'natural.' No, we choose it because we can get it discretely, without prescription, without significant expense.
I think I appreciate that the book is long. It's more readable than some non-fiction because it actually develops each concept, instead of racing on to the next; it doesn't try to engage us in 'turning pages' or staying up all night reading. Chapters and paragraphs are relatively long, too. Yet it's remarkably readable.
I really appreciate the analysis of Populations. For example, when men are depressed, they're more likely to find that "depression can easily erupt as rage" and therefore we can suspect that many wife batterers and others are misdiagnosed. Also, the higher rate of depression in women can be viewed many ways and also through many interpretive lenses. Is it real? Is it a matter of over-reporting? Or, possibly, under-reporting? Is is sociological, because there are women are still disenfranchised and who feel less powerful, less able to speak out? Is it hormonal? And what about children? What about the fact that children whose mother is mildly depressed often suffer more than one is severely depressed? (Lots of other populations are explored, too. Fascinating.)
At this point I started to read more lightly. I find it counter-productive to my health to read about Addictions or Politics.... But I did page through the entire book and am amazed by the wealth of wisdom and insight here.

Some more bookdart marked bits:

"[T]he depression itself lives forever in the cipher of my brain. It is part of me. To wage war on depression is to fight against oneself."
"You need to be reborn after a severe episode."
"'Medicines treat depression,' my therapist said to me, 'I treat depressives."

I need to look for 'Undercurrents' by Martha Manning.

"[D]epression can easily erupt as rage." (Theorized as a likely influence on lots of men who abuse their wives and families. I believe it. And I believe that the sentence passed against them should include therapy to address this root of their rage... I am confident it would be cost-effective as well as humane.)

The author says that he (or anyone) should be allowed to suicide at the point at which he "accurately believe[s] that the amount of joy left in [his] life can not exceed the amount of sorrow or pain." (I have a bit of trouble with that. I believe that to be true of my life now, but do not consider myself suicidal. I suspect there are a *lot* of people resigned to living with rare bits of joy, no?)
When looking for a suicide note or another reason, remember that the victim acted because s/he was suicidal. Period. The reason is never enough to actually explain, after all, consider all those people with even more trauma in their lives who cling to life.

Remember that different people have different symptoms and need different treatments and therapies. As the physician Sir William Osler said, "Don't tell what type of disease the patient has, tell me what type of patient has the disease!"

"If depressed people... simply stay at home or disappear, their invisibility makes them easy to ignore." But again, it's more likely to be cost-effective is our social nets extended to them and helped them to become productive citizens... because at some point it's likely that they will manifest, somehow, in the public sphere....

"Depression exaggerates character. In the long run, I think, it makes good people better; it makes bad people worse. It can destroy one's sense of proportion and give one paranoid fantasies and a false sense of helplessness; but it is also a window onto truth."
"By seeing [in popular psychology textbooks, for example] how many kinds of resilience and strength and imagination are to be found, one can appreciate not only the horror of depression but also the complexity of human vitality." "[T]rue survivors have compelling stories."

"The ailing me is not more or less an authentic self; the therapized me is not more or less an authentic self."
An amazing book, yes. Read it. Especially if you are depressive but currently feeling well. Or if you love or employ a depressed person. Or if you have any influence on public policy or health care or are a provider. Or if you've loved 'Hyperbole and a Half' by Brosh, or Haig's 'Reasons to Stay Alive.'
39 reviews13 followers
August 21, 2007
Harrowing, fascinating, moving -- and depressing. My sole problem, if indeed it is a problem, is that the author (as he remarks of Robert Burton embraces the paradoxes and contradictions rather than reconciling them. So prepare to be a bit confused by too much information, although all of it is vital -- in one context or another.
Profile Image for Anne.
63 reviews
February 15, 2010
Richard Bernstein of the New York Times referred to this book as "All-encompassing, brave, and deeply humane." This is why he gets the big bucks: with those few words, he succinctly captures the essence of Solomon's approach to his subject. "All-encompassing" because Solomon breaks down the science of depression's condition and treatment, unpacks its global history, examines its sociology both via population statistics and cultural context(s), and illustrates all of it with stories of real people with real depression, including himself. The book's well-referenced to a mixture of scholarly articles, world literature, philosophy, and other non-fiction works; he's just as apt to quote Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae as the New England Journal of Medicine. This catholic approach means that If there's an aspect of depression you're specifically interested in, or a mode in which you're accustomed to thinking, Solomon gives you an easy way in. You probably won't come out the same way.

"Brave" because Solomon tells his own story and that of others with unflinching detail, using real names and direct quotes from conversations and interviews, medical reports and emails. He's not afraid to explore the unconventional with the conventional, undergoing a ndeup in Senegal with the same willingness and open mind that he researches ECT and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The ndeup highlights a particular bravery: lack of embarrassment. Naked, smeared in animal blood, dancing in a strange land surrounded by strangers, Solomon doesn't waste any time talking about feeling silly. I get the sense that this spareness isn't natural to a guy who writes with the lushness he does: that depression has taught him where to pare away inessentials, to conserve his resources. He has no energy to spare for embarrassment, a luxury. Shame he's familiar with, the loss of self and agency, but his description of that is almost dispassionate, an assessment of his illness's symptoms, not a reaction in the moment. Moreover, Solomon's unafraid to examine questions of will and character, the intersection of morality and biology, and the difficulty of assessing the working of will in a damaged mind. This is stuff a lot of people wouldn't want to touch.

"Deeply humane" because despite his research into the biological mechanisms and political machinations of depression as an illness and an issue, Solomon has a depth of feeling for those suffering from depression, those he knows personally and the people who might be helped by his book. He takes pains to point out that while some treatments have statistical bases for usefulness, individuals have a wide range of responses to identical therapies. He pooh-poohs nothing.

I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about depression and its place in modern culture. To find out if you'd enjoy the book, download the first chapter for free at his website.

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