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4.3 out of 5 stars
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As a novelist who has written a novel about manic depression, and suffered from the more commonplace sort, I can't recommend this book too highly. A remarkable blend of personal anecdote and meticulous, scholarly research it stands with Kay Redfield Jamieson's An Unquiet Mind as one of the great books on the subject. Solomon is never self-pitying, and though you may envy him the support given him (especially by his saintly father)this is an affliction that is so widespread and so often misdiagnosed or treated that a copy should be in every household. What is especially good is his attitude to drugs and therapy, both of which can be life-saving. A fine novelist, he has found a subject that his thoughtful, pellucid, sympathetic style shows to startling advantage.
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on 14 January 2004
having read many books on depression i can confidently say this truly is the best ever! it does not just talk of living with the illness but also how other cultures deal with it from Tribal africans to eskimos! it tells u the history of medication and diagnosis from Greek times to present day. it also discusses the politics of having people depressed in society and its links to poverty. a big book but worth the effort!
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on 1 January 2002
This book covers all areas of depression, in such detail that it is as useful to Mental Health workers as any text book yet reads like a novel. Anyone with an interest in depression, whether as a sufferer or as a carer will find help in this book, with the understanding, insight and hope for the future that it can provide.
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on 7 June 2001
I could not put this book down. It is by far the best book on the subject of depression that I have read. The book has such range and depth; Solomon tackles all the angles of this complex subject with great intelligence, warmth and insight that he achieves a synthesis of the literary, political, medical, personal, historical, and philosophical dimensions of depression. Somehow the author manages to combine an incredibly personal and moving account of his own struggle with mental illness and that of others with a first class, rigorous text which any expert in the field would benefit from reading. His research, both academic and personal interviews, is impeccable, and I came away completely in awe of Solomon's command of the literature and handling of the numerous controversies surrounding the study of depression. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is so sophisticated a treatment of the subject that it made me constantly challenge my own views and I was left feeling exhilarated by the book's wealth of subject matter and the author's sensitive and unpatronising handling of it. The Noonday Demon is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in depression and mental illness, either personal or professional. Solomon comes across as being like the most interesting guest at a dinner party: someone you want to talk to for hours about his experiences as they are so wideranging and unusual in some instances (read the book to see what I mean). It's hard to imagine a better book on depression, and this is surprising given that Solomon is a writer as opposed to a psychiatrist/psychologist. He might as well be, however, as he appears to know at least as much as a professional does and offers us a broader and more heartfelt account than a dispassionate doctor might be able to. I feel that the author has put such mental and emotional energy into the researching and writing of this book that it deserves, in my opinion, to be seen as the spectacular product of many years of Solomon's private reflections on his own illness and the work of an extremely intelligent and gifted writer, a text which future authors tackling the thorny subject of depression will not be able to ignore.
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on 8 April 2002
I've only read one chapter of this book so far, but think that it is incredible. Simply unputdownable, even if you have not been directly or indirectly affected by depression, this book is simply marvellous in its frankness and honesty. Part autobiography, and in part non-fiction analysis of depression, this is a must read for everyone. I highly recommend it and I shall now go on to buy Andrew Solomon's novel. He is one of the best writers I've come across in recent years.
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The very first paragraph of this book hit me right between the eyes. Here was someone speaking my language, describing my world, but with an eloquence and precision I could never hope to match. A sufferer speaking to fellow sufferers, of those terrible things that those not so afflicted cannot hope and, for the most part, do not, because they should not, want to understand. As a lifetime sufferer of chronic depression I learned long ago that those self help books that promise you freedom from depression with fresh air and happy thoughts are clearly aimed at some other clinical/marketing profile. This book is aimed at those who find themselves in it for the long haul. A book for those whose lives have been blighted and dominated by depression, and have no rational reason to believe that they will ever be truly free from it. It is a book for those who have been bought to the fork in the road and accepted that this is how it is going to be, so how am I going to organise my life around it in order to make the best that can be made of it? It is certainly not a book for those who `know absolutely nothing about depression and want to get a basic overview'. For someone wanting a clinical overview of mental illness, and how depression fits into its overall continua, then perhaps Richard Bentall's Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature might prove more appropriate. Non-sufferers will probably be all too apt to dismiss such writing as self-indulgent. Sufferers, for the most part, will be eager to compare their own experiences with one portrayed with such, at times, shocking honesty, and will welcome the highly researched factual information that is presented, along with the author's story and the case histories he has collected.

It should be made clear that Solomon's position is that anti-depressant drugs are one of the miracles of our age, and that the ongoing research into them and their refinement gives the chronic sufferer a hope that was not available to other generations. It could be that those who are battling with depressive illness, but are yet reluctant to embrace the path of medication, may find the book provocative or difficult. Then again it might be the final persuasion they need to take them into the path of possibilities that modern medications open up. However, he also makes clear that medication is no magic bullet. Finding the regime that works for you comes easily to some, but for many can be a very difficult process, one that he likens more to chemotherapy treatment for cancer than taking an aspirin for a headache.

What initially caught my eye about this book was that it included a chapter on breakdowns. I have suffered two significant breakdowns in the course of my illness, both of which have taken a big slice of cognitive functioning from me, and the latter of which is proving very difficult to extricate any meaningful kind of recovery from. In that time I have found it very hard to get concrete information on the nature of breakdown, as it manifests in the context of chronic depression, its progress and possibilities for recovery. The doctors who have treated me have given me plenty of optimistic words, but some years on my life remains bumpy, and genuine recovery proves elusive. The breakdowns chapter in this book has given me a great deal of insight into my own situation, and confirmed some of my own suspicions about probable outcomes for someone in my circumstances. It has given me a lot to think about, and above all it has let me know that what has happened to me certainly does happen to others, something my doctors seem reluctant to be clear about.

This is no easy read, even for sufferers. Inevitably as one reads, one finds oneself taken back to places along one's own path that perhaps are better left forgotten. The chapter on suicide causes one to evaluate why one does indeed keep going, possibly leaving one with only the most coldly rational of reasons. But I have learned a lot while reading it. If nothing else, I have taken from it an affirmation that my own experience, which on the face of it so often seems so remote and detached from the daily life of the world around me, does in fact have a place in the fabric of human normality.

Last, and by no means least, Solomon is a literate and erudite writer of fine and engaging prose, which skills he brings fully to bear on this painful and difficult subject matter.
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on 27 August 2002
A book that has both the insides and the outsides of its covers plastered with gushing reviews must have something good about it -- and this book does. It is fantastic, and deserves all the reviewers' hyperbole.
The book is the product of five years of research and 10,000 pages-worth of interviews alone. In addition, Solomon has suffered depression himself and is a novelist.
The book is certainly not a subjective account of depression. (For an interesting example of that genre see Gwynneth Lewis's recent "Sunbathing in the Rain.) It contains plenty of discussions stemming from statistics, and reports on recent scientific and psychological theories. It has a chapter devoted to the role depression might have in evolution; one on depression and poverty that has a distinctly sociological slant; one chapter that covers the history of medical treatment of depression. But it also contains a wealth of testimony from people who suffer from depression themselves -- as well as Solomon's own story, which is mostly told in two of the twelve chapters. (Around 30 people's stories are given in detail, mostly in their own words.)
I think this book is an excellent place to go to for someone who is interested in learning about depression -- not only about the science of it (what it does, how it can be treated, etc.) but also how it fits into people's lives: how they feel about it, how it came upon them, how they live with it. (For example, if you know someone who is depressed and can't understand why they don't just "snap out of it", or if you don't think it's serious enough to think about treatment -- or alternatively think that pills can cure them completely -- then this book may help you.)
I imagine that for anyone who has suffered from it, the accuracies of this book will trigger many memories of your own depression. (That may be a reason not to read it, if you do suffer from it. Gwynneth Lewis's book, by contrast, was written with the explicit aim of cheering and encouraging.) As I have been depressed, it was, I admit, sometimes a hard read: it is painful to be reminded of my unhappiness. But even so, I felt that the book has informed me. I knew that millions of Americans take Prozac, but I wasn't aware that depression can be classed as the second-biggest global health problem after hearth-disease. It changed some of my attitudes too, particularly my resistance to taking medication, which I now think was exaggeratedly fearful, and convinced me of the need to seek help of one sort or another for depression.
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on 15 December 2004
This is an excellent read for anyone interested in depression, who has had it or is currently experiencing it, is caring for someone with it, or is studying mental health professionally. Although some of the medical facts and assumptions about religion are a bit misguided, the general facts in this book are correct and well presented. To give the author his due, what is factually wrong he is usually just giving an opinion on, so it is more acceptable to the reader.
It is also a very brave book as the author is painfully honest about his experiences, and this is a rarity in self-disclosure in mental health literature. All too often people will disclose what they want to, but this is a great example of a "warts and all" book.
I highly recommend this book as one of the best, if not THE best in the genre.
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on 2 July 2009
I was recommended this book by a close friend. Although not suffering from depression myself , I have lived with someone who has bouts of clinical depression and I wamted to know more about the condition. This is an amazing account of someone who who has been through hell and come out to be able to recount the experiences as well as talking to a cross section of people with the same illness. After reading I know now it is an illness as much as cancer or diabetes and needs to be accepted and treated as such. To any sufferers or just to know more about this subject I would heartily recommend this book. I would go so far as saying this is a definitive book for the layman,telling it as it is.
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on 6 June 2001
This is a landmark work in the history of depression. Never before has anyone described the emotions felt during depression so elegantly. Andrew's literary skill makes each page of this book a pleasure to read. The Noonday Demon is not only well-written, it is also extremely informative. The author takes us on a journey through personal experiences, provides detailed descriptions of medications and side affects, and explores the efficacy of alternative treatments. In the second half of the book he goes on to describe depression in multiple contexts such as history and philosophy.
I have been a long time sufferer of depression and I have found hope in this book. It is a subject that I have long been ashamed to speak about outside of my therapist's office. Andrew works to remove the stigma behind this illness and bring all aspects of the disease to light. Depression has no cure, it something must be dealt with and treated on a daily basis. I find strength in the knowledge that so many others are successfully treating depression, even if they are not conquering it completely.
The Noonday Demon is a remarkable work that should be read and reread.
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