A reader’s guide to depression, hopelessly bleak yet heartbreakingly real.
In this massive tome, Solomon (A Stone Boat, 1994, etc.) confronts the terrors of depression with a breadth both panoramic and precise. The 12 tersely titled chapters (“Depression,” “Breakdowns,” “Treatments,” “Alternatives,” “Populations,” “Addiction,” “Suicide,” “History,” “Poverty,” “Politics,” “Evolution,” and “Hope”) address with spectacular clarity the ways in which depression steals lives away, leaving its prey bereft of their very selves. Despite the occasional cliché (“Life is fraught with sorrows”) and heavy metaphor (“Grief is a humble angel”), Solomon’s prose illuminates a dark topic through the unfolding tales of his sources and his own life story; by allowing the voices of those who battle depression to speak, rich and varied pictures of daily struggle, defeat, and triumph ultimately emerge. The author deserves kudos as well both for the geographical span of his account (which ranges from Senegal to Greenland) and for its historical sweep (which begins with Hippocrates and continues to the present). Paradoxically, the completeness of Solomon’s vision undermines his readability: so much suffering fills these pages that, at times, it’s all a bit too much darkness. (The gruesome litany of suicide techniques, for example, seems gratuitous.) Nevertheless, the importance of the work becomes virtually self-evident when Solomon addresses such topics as the cultural denial of depression, masculine fears of seeking treatment, strengths and weaknesses of various treatments, the salutary effect of diet and exercise on depression, the high cost of treatment, and chronic depression among the elderly. Fortunately the final chapter is “Hope”—for the reader will certainly be in need of some after the marathon of gloom.
So good, so vitally important, but so . . . depressing.