Three case studies from the files of a UCLA thanatologist demonstrate in chilling detail that killing oneself is no easy matter. Shneidman, who limits his comments to cultures with a Judeo- Christian tradition, proposes the not especially novel idea that psychological pain, or ``psychache,'' is the primary cause of suicide. Using a form adapted from Henry A. Murray's Explorations in Personality to rate the psychological needs of individuals, he concludes that most suicides fall into five need clusters. (There is at this point a gratuitous insertion of so-called experts' assessments of the needs of Hitler, Martha Graham, Marilyn Monroe, Captain Ahab, and others.) His case studies demonstrate three of these clusters: the need to be loved, the need to strike first, and the need to belong. The first case study consists mostly of transcribed audiotapes from Ariel (pseudonyms are used throughtout), who chose self-immolation but survived with horrible burns over most of her body. Beatrice, the second case, wrote out her life story while she was Shneidman's patient; her choice was knives and starvation, and it is unclear whether her attempts at suicide have ceased. Castro, the third case, was unable to speak to Shneidman, having blown away most of his face while trying to blow his brains out, but he wrote out for him a long account of the episode, as well as many notes and letters. Shneidman sums up with a list of ten psychological commonalities of suicide—the common emotion is hopelessness/helplessness, the common action is escape, etc.—and a list of 24 psychotherapeutic maneuvers that he deems appropriate in treating potential suicides. Though providing few fresh insights, this succeeds on another level: By revealing the possible ghastly consequences of failed attempts, perhaps it may help deter some from trying to take their own lives. (4 photos, 1 linecut, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-19-510366-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1996

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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