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A Field Guide to Melancholy

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  86 ratings  ·  17 reviews
A depressive illness or a passing feeling? Mental detachment or a precursor to genius? Melancholy is a critical part of what it is to be human, yet everything from Prozac to self-help psychology books seems intent on removing all signs of sadness from contemporary existence. A Field Guide to Melancholy surveys this ambivalent concept and takes a journey through the articul ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published February 1st 2009 by Oldcastle Books
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Bon Tom
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book that delivers far more than expected.
I thought this was simple self-help, but it's far more than that.
It's almost scientific, anthropological approach to ungraspable nature of complex emotion.
Also, into the paradoxical beauty of all things melancholic. Yes, there seems to be such thing as beauty of sadness, and it's practically melancholia defined.
Dec 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a little gem of a book that was truly a joy to read, despite the subject matter. The author brings to light the subject of a sense of darkness that can be found all around the world in various cultures and in different places: art, architecture, landscapes, literature, music, film and language itself. The history of the mental state otherwise defined as madness or depression or genius is also discussed as is our need to embrace this subject and the influence it has on our lives. It appe ...more
Heather Fowler
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book's exploration of melancholy's connection to beauty and genius--and difference from depression. This is a quick read with a variety of references to both literature and musical culture. It's a fun quick read. Dare I say a good beach read for students of melancholy? Ha! Worth picking up. ...more
Seamus Thompson
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it

Terrific little book that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: offer a general introduction to the various ideas and expressions of melancholy the world over. A lively read filled with nuanced insights and explanations, what I loved most about this book is that it first clarified my understanding of (and thinking about) melancholy and then had me scribbling all kinds of titles and names (of other books, films, songs, museums, photographers, etc) to seek out. The ideal jumping-off point f
Very informational and well-documented!
Nov 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was quite an interesting read. Dealing with a subject matter so fraught with mystery and ambiguity is no small feat. The audacity to delve so deep into it is what bumped this up to that 4th star for me.

Bowring starts with a trip through antiquity; touching on the early Greek and Roman perceptions of this mellow state of mind via the four 'humours'. From here is a patient stroll through national, creative, psychological, and philosophical inquiry where the notion of melancholy is brought in
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was both a fast read and a slow read for me....which seemed to be fitting with the duality of melancholy that was presented in the book. I started reading it in an airport, and from that point on I would only read the book while filled the spaces that are normally dominated by boredom and angst and made them places of intense self-reflection. In a world where it seems that the only socially acceptable emotion is happiness, I am glad that a book like this exists to remin ...more
Peter Geyer
Melancholy has always interested me in that, from a surface perspective, I seemed to be more that kind of person than any of the labels associated with normal behaviour, thinking or being positive and the like. My dad was all about being positive when I was growing up, yet he was a critical person, although not of me, and, ultimately, an unhappy one, for several reasons.

My mum used to say that when he laughed it was because something was really funny, and she was right there. But he was never r
Jan 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: High society artsy types
I had high hopes for this book, and honestly if it wasn't what I expected that's my own fault. I'm sure it would be a magnificent read for the right person, a real tour de force. However, that person is undoubtedly someone very immersed in the art world; that is, certainly not me.

When I decided to read the field guide, it was with little more foreknowledge than the synopsis. Consequently, I expected something a little more well-rounded than "melancholy in art, architecture, and music", which wou
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
An interesting primer on the history and influence of melancholia in the arts.

It's a survey of a huge range of topics which helpfully name-dropped and reviewed some major artists or terms, making it a useful resource to discover artists or ideas.
Apr 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
Not sure if it's my confirmation bias speaking but this book provides the reader with a perspective that challenges the average interpretation of 'melancholy'. It emphasizes its importance in maintaining our sanity, contrary to the modern assumption that it deteriorates or threatens our mental well being. For that, I appreciated the book.

In terms of the read, it was smooth about 3/4 way through and took a little hit from then onwards with the melancholic architecture and photography. There were
Nov 19, 2016 rated it liked it
it would be nice if the author provided more direct references to what was being described in the book. there are so many wonderful descriptions of paintings that are not pictured. guess it's one of those books best read in close proximity of google. ...more
Barry Belmont
Nov 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Much like the feelings it describes, this book left me ambivalent, shrugging my shoulders with an existential "meh." It wasn't bad, it wasn't great. Much more could be said, but it wasn't. ...more
Dec 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
just getting to know my way around
Manick Govinda
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
A wonderful field study on this most bitter-sweet of emotions and state of mind
albin james
Oct 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Je t'aime mélancolie {I Love You Melancholy} ...more
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