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Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious
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Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  283 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
Author Alix Strauss takes a provocative look at the self-imposed deaths of the famous and infamous in Death Becomes Them. In this fascinating and intimate chronicle of celebrity suicides, the spotlight shines on the lonely last moments of Kurt Cobain and Ernest Hemingway, Abbie Hoffman and Adolf Hitler, Dorothy Dandridge, Sigmund Freud, Hunter S. Thompson, and others. Deat ...more
Paperback, 325 pages
Published September 15th 2009 by Harper Perennial (first published 2009)
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Shannon Breen
Jan 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Like others have noted, this book is so full of errors as to be ridiculous. I was shocked to see an editor mentioned in the acknowledgements. This book truly reads like a self-published book. The wording is often strange, apparently there was no fact-checker, and I seriously wonder who (if anyone) did the proofreading. Based on this book apparently Hitler was active in politics in 1993. The subject matter is interesting, but the list of online sources makes me question the reliability of anythin ...more
Kara
Sep 23, 2009 rated it did not like it
Did anyone *read* this before it was published? This book has more laughably awkward sentences, overly dramatic prose and incorret word choices than any book I can remember. It reads like it was written by a fifteen year old goth girl. Also, most of the information is available on Wikipedia, at about the same level of writing skill. Skip!

Edited to add: Just looked at the references in the back, and the first "invaluble" research tool Strauss lists is Wikipedia.
Belinda
Mar 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Can you call a book about suicide fun? That's really pretty much what this is--a fun trivia type book about suicide. Each chapter discusses a certain subset (musicians, writers, actors etc) and the last few chapters are a combination of famous suicides. The author touches on statistics, history and medical science on each subject. Makes for very interesting reading and covers everyone from Kurt Cobain to Sigmund Freud (I had no idea he was a suicide--though reading of his medical condition it's ...more
Cait Poytress
I would say that the editor of this book did an abysmal job, except I don't think there even was one.
Julia
Nov 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
There is a bit of a joke running with this book now due to the fact that my sister gave it to me and didn't clarify (she said she did) to me I wasn't suppose to read it. Well as you can tell I did read it, it was terrible and pathetic as well as a waste of time while she eagerly awaits my review after having dodged the bullet herself.

In most other instances a book about death would or could be an interesting read depending again on the author and how it reads. Unfortunately, though, this book
...more
Jessica
Jun 28, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2011, suicide
How do I give negative stars?

My enjoyment of this book came to a SCREECHING halt on page 170. Wherein the author prints the English translation of the song “Gloomy Sunday” THAT IS NOT GLOOMY SUNDAY. I cannot get past such a glaring mistake. In fact the poem or lyrics or whatever they are that are printed don’t even contain the words gloomy or Sunday in them at all. How does this happen? Furthermore, the author makes the claim that this song resulted in suicides and that radio stations banned it
...more
Julie
Mar 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting enough, but truly not executed as well as it could have been. However, for what it was and was meant to be, namely a casual summary of the life and death of some of the most famous people to have commuted suicide, it was good. The sources are iffy as are the stated facts, but for someone looking to satisfy that need for a macabre browse without needing scholarly support it certainly is enjoyable.

All that said, I would have liked to have seen a little more empathy. I know it meant to
...more
Liana
Mar 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
I read all the reviews about this book and how certain facts were incorrect but I continued to read because it was a topic I love. Approximately half way through the book I came across Ian Curtis and his suicide and that's where I'm stopping. She makes careless mistakes in spelling that bother me so much. Calling Bernard Sumner "Bernard Summer" when a few paragraphs later she quotes Curtis' daughter and writes "Sumner" correctly. She talks about the bands album "unknown pleasures" and manages to ...more
Sarah
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: books
Ummm... I would think that prior to writing a book like this you would fact check, then have someone else fact check, AND then someone in the editing/publishing room would fact check. But I know nothing about writing a book. This is a fast interesting read until you read details that are incorrect, and then when you reach the end after second guessing everything you've been reading ...there are the sources...and Wikipedia and IMDB are the first two sources listed... Yeah.
Bamboozlepig
The glaring inaccuracies, typos and other mistakes made this a chore to get through. But I forced myself to finish it because I've had a string of DNF's and felt compelled to completely read SOMETHING...ANYTHING...all the way through. And I wish I'd picked something different because this one wound up being rather boring, despite the morbid subject matter. Strauss didn't do much justice to the suicide victims she featured, mostly due to the inaccuracies in so many of their stories.
Anosmia
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating and lively book--a really enjoyable read. I knocked off a star, though, because I spotted several typos and errors. For example, Oliver Sacks's name is misspelled as Oliver Saks, it says that Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in 1993, and Sylvia Plath's death location is erroneously listed as being her Devon house, when in fact she died in north London.
Theremin Poisoning
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting book full of information. My only complaint is the occasional faltering in the writing style. Still, a worthwhile read.
Alissa
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Utterly fascinating.
Wendy Capron
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
It's like People magazine only with suicide. I wouldn't have read the whole thing if I weren't so morbid.
Mindi
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a study of suicide that uses celebrity cases, not so much to glamorize the act, but to allow and the reader case studies of people they are familiar with. The book presents a number of famous suicides, and then succinctly deconstructs what could possibly cause those people to end their lives prematurely.

Suicide is a tough subject to study, but Strauss manages to present the facts without too much sensationalism or theorizing. Humans have always had a certain fascination with death, and
...more
Isaac Babel's Ghost
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
I'll admit that this book was interesting in a certain way, like a less trashy version of Anger's infamous "Hollywood Babylon" or a less sophisticated version of Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals," but it simply isn't worth your time. I wont gloat on the factual mistakes strewn throughout (one page tells me that Sylvia Plath's father died a few days before her 8th birthday, a few pages later it says he died a few days after her 9th birthday), other reviewers have done that several times already, but ...more
Lauren
Jan 15, 2016 rated it liked it
"When we see someone who we think has everything going for them, and they kill themselves, it confuses us. It throws our values into question."

2.5 stars. Some reviewers have noted that Death Becomes Them is like a glorified collection of Wikipedia pages about each person. To that I say, "So what?" But, like others have mentioned, there are some really problematic things about this book. With any book, ESPECIALLY a non-fiction, proper editing and fact checking is half the battle. It just seems
...more
Melle
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who think Mary Roach is too in-depth, trivia buffs, people obsessed with celebrity suicides
This was an interesting book but a little hard to stomach. First of all, it's caused me to worry and worry hard about everyone I know, especially my beloveds who write. Second, the section on musicians seemed to be full of unnecessary hero-worship, reverence, and glorification. Third, this book was a good superficial overview of suicides and deaths that were contributed to by personal challenges, addictions, mental illness, etc., but it seemed to have a hard time trying to find its tone between ...more
anolta
Oct 06, 2009 marked it as not-read-because-of-review
Shelves: plath-related
I ordered this book two days ago, but I hope I can cancel the order within the next hours.
Since the description sounded so promising, I could not wait for it to arrive. I was sure, it will give me many new insights on Sylvia Plath to use in my thesis. However, despite the interesting topic, this book or at least the chapter about Plath, seems to be full of flaws and wrong facts. (Source: http://sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com/2... ).
I am really disappointed and since the reviewed chapter contains s
...more
Megan Parker
Oct 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I will agree with most of the other comments on the fact that this book contains errors. For example, there was a typo in one section that stated that Hitler became chancellor in 1993... Ummmm, more like 1939. Also, Wikipedia was its first listed source. I love the site just as much as the next person, but if I wrote a book, I would probably try to avoid it.

Other than that, I loved the easy-to-follow, attention-keeping layout. I didn't want to put it down. I learned a bunch of interesting facts
...more
Meaghan
Certainly this was quite an interesting book, profiling cases of many famous people (almost all from the twentieth or twenty-first century, a few from the latter half the 1800s). However I am a bit uneasy about accuracy. One of the reviews below says the Sylvia Plath entry contained many inaccuracies, and in the "sources" section it said Wikipedia was a major source. I love Wikipedia as much as anyone else but it's hardly unimpeachable.

Nevertheless, a book worth your time reading if you are inte
...more
Teri Reck
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fascinating, although sad, look at famous people's suicides. So many troubled souls out there. It includes what is known about methods, notes, last things done, etc. It includes some people whose deaths were ruled suicides but may not have been. From Hemingway to Sylvia Plath to Van Gogh and Mark Rothko as well as numerous musicians and the politically powerful--the tales are told of the depression, the addictions and the mental struggles of some highly creative individuals whose lives and dea ...more
Kaitlyn
Sep 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I did quite enjoy this book, first of all, but now I'm a bit unsure, if the inaccuracies are as bad as other reviewers say they are. Nevertheless, the book has its good points, even if the facts aren't that straight. It's fairly interesting and kept my interest all through it (an impressive feat for most nonfiction), and the subject matter is something I'm fascinated with. Overall, I'd say it's worth the read, but be sure to do some fact-checking and be prepared to forgive some mistakes.
Noelle
Jan 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
On the macabre side, yes, but utterly fascinating. I stumbled upon it today and cannot put it down. Was surprised that Mary Roach was not the author behind it as not since Stiff has death made for such a compelling non-fiction read. I'm really digging Alix Strauss' style and the tone in which she delivers her research. Somehow she comes across as both clinical and a sentimentalist- not an easy combination to exude especially given the subject matter.
Nicole
Oct 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
I absolutely LOVED this book! It is broken up into categories of actors, writers, artists, musicians, important people, and there is an excellent introduction and a few end chapters with some backed-up research and interesting facts.

I think my favorite thing about this book is how broad it is. One minute you are reading about Sylvia Plath, another, Michael Hutchence.

Highly recommend-especially for those interested in the extremely morbid!
Coki
Jul 16, 2010 rated it liked it
Okay who am I reading two non-fics in a row? Not sure why I was fascinated by this macabre little book but I couldn't put it down. Short and sweet and I definitely wanted to learn more about some of the celebrities (some not so much.) Fun and light if I can say that about something of this nature.
Anita
Nov 17, 2010 rated it liked it
A highly readable book about suicides of the brilliant, the famous and the notorious, presented as short stories and snippets of information, facts and figures. I can't help but feel a little shame at my interest in the subject and my enjoyment of this book, therefore it's not one I'd read in public, but I would recommend it to anyone not put off by the macabre.
Cyndi
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Although this book is a little dated -- it was published in 2009 but alot can happen in 6 years (Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston to name a couple) -- it was still a very interesting read. I liked all the extra fun facts the author included with each person. I highly recommend to anyone who finds the suicides and/or accidental deaths of famous people interesting.
Aurelia D'andrea
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Love this book! I just got through the famous literary suicides: Plath, Thompson, Hemingway, etc. Now I'm on the actors. Scary how mental illness and creative talent appear to be so intertwined. I'm going to stay off the bridge for a while, methinks.
Valissa
Jun 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: library
even having read biographies or synopses of the lives and deaths of many of these public, talented, and tragic people, it was an interesting retrospective of the tortured artist.

nothing like a little vulturing to remind oneself of the comfort of obscurity.
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Alix received a degree in Educational Theater from NYU, and has taught Fiction, Creative Writing, Personal Essays, and Writing for Magazines for the past fifteen years. She is the recipient of several awards and fellowships from programs such as the Wesleyan Writers Conference, the Skidmore College Writerʼs Institute, the Sarah Lawrence Summer Program, and the Squaw Valleyʼs Screenwritersʼ Summer ...more