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Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It
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Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  381 ratings  ·  72 reviews
Worldwide, more people die by suicide than by murder, and many more are left behind to grieve. Despite distressing statistics that show suicide rates rising, the subject, long a taboo, is infrequently talked about. In this sweeping intellectual and cultural history, poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her grief for two friends lost to suicide into a search f ...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Yale University Press
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3.56  · 
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If you are interested in the history of suicide but cannot afford time to read all the major literature written about it, or don’t know where to start, this book might come in handy. However, it does NOT offer a proper perspective on this delicate subject, and it stigmatizes people who attempt or die by suicide. For a better understanding of suicide, please visit or read the entry on "suicide" on Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

In her preface, Hetch asserts that she ultimately a
Joseph Spuckler
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” ...”(Sisyphus) is superior to his fate. He is Stronger than his rock.” – Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by Jennifer Michael Hecht is a history of suicide and the historical views of suicides though time. Hecht earned her PhD in the History of Science from Columbia University and studied at the Universite de Caen and Universite d' Angers. She teaches poetry and philosophy in the Graduate Writing Prog
Jul 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
Dreadful, simply dreadful. The author spends nearly every chapter adding to a horrific and dangerous stigma that portrays suicide as a cowardly and immoral act. What's worse, she states in no uncertain terms that people who commit suicide are effectively murderers, labeling suicide as "delayed homicide" due to the effects of emotion contagion and suicide clustering.

Throughout the book the author's biases are clear. Self-righteousness, moralizing, condescension, smugness, intolerance for alterna
Jack Fenwick
May 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
I read Stay last December. About a month or so after it was published after a review popped up in my Twitter feed. I found myself immediately nauseated by the selected blurbs and quotes engendering Hecht's argument; however, I nonetheless did Hecht the courtesy of a full reading and a throwing of twenty bucks her way to see what on earth she thought she was bringing to the philosophical table to justify such flimsy premises into an eternal debate that is only in the last few decades being approa ...more
Emma Sea
More than a summary of historical attitudes to suicide, Hecht's book is a really plea for those considering suicide to decide against it.

Hecht's point is that "It is an intellectual and moral mistake to see the idea of suicide as an open choice that each of us is free to make" (p. 215).

Rather, because of the statistical likelihood of suicide clusters, each of us owes it the other members of our society not to kill ourselves. We should "consider it a pact of a sort to stay alive to spare the oth
Laura (Madsen) McLain
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
Very powerful. You should read this book if you are a parent, or if you or someone you love:
* has suffered from depression
* has had suicidal thoughts
* knows someone who has died by suicide
* is in a profession with a higher risk (medical, military, first responders, etc.)
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a really fast run through the history of thought on suicide, written as a polemic. It has admirable intentions that I doubt will be realized: to present the intellectual arguments against suicide so that people considering suicide will have a bulwark when the urge presents itself most strongly. There are a couple of problems with this project, not the least the notion that people that desperate are going to be weighing Cato versus the categorical imperative. The arguments that have swaye ...more
Po Po
Nov 12, 2013 added it
Although Hecht presents both pro and anti-suicide arguments through a historical perspective, the perspectives provided are heavily weighted toward anti-suicide.

Offers the opinions of: Socrates. Aristotle. Cicero. Epicurus. Kant. Hume. Berkeley. Voltaire. Hobbes. Wittgenstein. Montaigne. Shakespeare. Rousseau. Keats. Milton. Aquinas. Schopenhauer. Mill. Freud. Nietzsche. Sartre. Camus. And many more.

This is an exceptionally thorough work. It is dense; it is fact-full. It is also dry and intensel
Jan 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I knew about this book from Brain picking's review:
It's too beautiful!
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
The first 100 pages or so were very interesting and provided an interesting and thorough history of suicide and suicide culture. Beyond that, the book is almost un-readable. The arguments put forth by the author are weak, and rather than elaborating, she simply restates and restates her central point- that one must not commit suicide, because one owes it to the community to stay alive. I find it difficult to believe that the suicidal person owes anything to the very community that failed him/her ...more
Apr 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Interesting, thought-provoking and above all powerful book about suicide and against suicide. Starts out as a history lesson and morphes into a sustained argument against killing oneself. As a religious reader, I found the chapter on religious thought about suicide especially interesting. And while I didn't, so to speak, have need for the secular arguments against suicide in the final chapters of the book, I could appreciate them for what they were employed to do. I agree with the author that ou ...more
Gicu Gicu
Dec 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Really great book. Worth reading.
Carolyn Zaikowski
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the most nuanced, important take on suicide I've ever read, and perhaps the most original synthesis on the topic I've read (in terms of analyzing different philosophies and evidence and history and bringing it together to show a clear path for our future and our present.) It is at once entirely logical and profoundly compassionate. I also suggest ignoring most of the negative reviews. I believe people prickle at this book because of how good and nuanced the points are. We default into sa ...more
David Msomba
Meaningful,Moving, and Beautifully written!!!!

I knew I was in safe hands with this author on this delicate subject,Her book Doubt:A History,still remains one among the most important book in my life,I ever had a pleasure to read.

So when I saw this,I knew she had something important to add on the on going conversation about suicide.

The thesis of this book,was to bring awareness to philosophical secular arguments against suicide which were made throughout history.

As on Doubt:A History,She gave the
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
The topic of suicide is both important and difficult to sit with. Hecht does a nice job of providing a review of several philosophers stance on suicide, ultimately concluding that the reasons to not commit suicide are both social and personal. Socially, suicides impact us all, even if the person who has committed suicide is distant to us. This kind of social interconnection is something which can be minimized by those who are suffering and considering suicide. The personal argument is one that f ...more
Mike Stuchbery
Dec 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Brisk read on a difficult subject. Fascinating & strangely empowering.
Nov 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
not convincing, came to conclusion life sucks, then you die but wait it out until you die
Ron Christiansen
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf, philosophy
I heard Hecht interviewed on Radiowest and had to order the book--even for the big bucks in hardback. Why? Because I was impressed with her goal for writing the book: having had two poet friends commit suicide she decided it was vital to give an secular defense of living, of staying, without the "aid" of religion, sin, and eternal damnation.

Also, because I was absolutely enthralled with her earlier book, Doubt: A history: The great doubters and their legacy, which had helped me form my own iden
Dec 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
Set up as a valiant argument against suicide and the tolerance she, somewhat obnoxiously, sees as dominant in modern secular philosophy, Hecht's argument boils down to two points: (a) suicide is wrong because of its impact on other people, namely in potentially encouraging others to follow suit, and (b) it is wrong because it deprives a person of their future potential. This latter point, the It Gets Better argument, is extremely compelling when it comes to teenagers and young adults but loses a ...more
Lance Eaton
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hecht's book is a fascinating one and one that certainly resonates with me. Her goal is to provide a historical exploration of suicide and, in part, use that history of numerous writers, institutions, and arguments against suicide to then develop a secular argument against suicide--that is, to stay. There's much to her argument that I appreciate. Firstly, she carves out a particular kind of suicide: one born of depression. This, in itself, I see as important and a distinction from other types of ...more
Tori Miller
Aug 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
I found this book to be very hurtful and it made it difficult to read. Obviously, a lot of time went into the research and writing. I was also glad she included a section on media reporting of suicide deaths and the impact of suicide in movies although the media don't seem to be doing a good job of following the guidelines and I didn't feel like that was emphasized. I felt like this book will add to stigma not lessen it. I feel like it implies that suicide is more of a choice than it seems to me ...more
Simona Vesela
Jul 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
First I want to say, that I enjoyed reading this book very much. I have read numerous very negative reviews I though I disagree with some of them(for instance the accusations that the author disregards mental illness as an illness. In the very telling introduction she sets out to argue for sobbing, depressed individual's life as being better then their suicide, so I think she sets up arguing for all people who's friends and family believe that they shouldn't go), I would like to point out that t ...more
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I didn't expect a book on suicide to be so simply moving. The author focuses on good, secular reasons why the godless should eschew terminating their own life. Many of the arguments were novel and along side the history of thoughts on staying are the history on the thoughts on suicide. The author talks about early Christian thought which saw Jesus's suicide as a very early "death by cop" as well as the near contemporaneous case of Josephus refraining from suicide in the face of what was perceive ...more
Aug 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
A lot of interesting discussions about how suicide was viewed in classical times and through European history, especially by philosophers. The author is earnest in her call against suicide, and I agree with much of what she says. But I wish there had been more discussion about the approach to suicide in non-European areas, and I wish there had been a little more in the way of numbers - is suicide a bigger problem now than 50 or 100 or 500 years ago? And how do suicide rates vary from culture to ...more
Feb 05, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
I purchased this book after hearing an interview with the author on MPR. The book reads like a English major's thesis. I photocopied two pages, that had some helpful quotes by Albert Schweitzer and Eleanor Roosevelt on pages 216 & 217 out of 234 pages. I typically read every word of a book, but couldn't bear it in this case. I have a son and daughter-in-law who had first hand exposure to a cousin that committed suicide. With chronic pain issues, my fear is that he may take his own life. The ...more
Sep 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humanism
Here's a quick thought on the book (I may have more later) by Jennifer Michael Hecht that I can't quite stop thinking about: All the arguments she makes for living, instead of killing oneself through suicide, seem to apply equally to being involved with the world, as opposed to ignoring it. Hecht advises living or "staying" because we are each of us important in someway if for no other reason than for what we can offer each other. It seems to go without saying that while we are here, we should b ...more
May 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cultural-history
I argued with this book a lot, in the margins. The fact that it encouraged me to argue and engaged me means that this doesn't get one star. It also gave a decent (albeit fast) overview of suicide in western/Judeo-Christian society. Where this book broke down for me was how it stigmatized suicide--I could tell why the author wrote this book, at all times. I can understand why you would want to write this argument, but I feel like it came from a complete lack of understanding about how suicidal th ...more
Kyle Barton
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good for what it is—a survey of the historical and philosophical stances on suicide, arguing against it. It is an academic book, not really designed to "help" someone in the struggle. If you are looking for what people have thought about suicide and arguments against it, with lots of quotes, this is a good overview. The author wants to rehabilitate a secular argument against suicide, not dependent on religious prohibitions, that is based on a duty to your community and your future self.
May 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Though a bit erudite in parts, Jennifer Hecht provides a multi-dimensional look at suicide from the earliest times of civilization, to the present, with valid explanations and arguments made from different perspectives. Even though I've been bedeviled with suicidal ideation for most of my life, there was much hope in her project. Highly recommended for those contemplating suicide, family members who grieve and the general public in general..
Colleen Jousma
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The history mixed in with philosophy was one of my favorite parts of the book. There was also some very good quotes by philosophers and others (including a quote by Camus that had me in tears). Overall a very good book. The ending could have been a little smoother, but by the last chapter the author had already made her point so the purpose of the book wasn't missed. Just wished that last chapter made a little more sense.
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Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, historian, philosopher, and author.

“None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay. Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay.” 7 likes
“We did not make this world...and our childhood inclinations about how to succeed in it turn out to be wrong: often our courage is needed not to dramatically change reality but to accept it and persist in it.” 3 likes
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