NIGHT FALLS FAST by Kay Redfield Jamison


Understanding Suicide
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Suicide rates for Americans under 40, the cohort on which this book focuses, have tripled in the past 45 years. Although it makes no attempt to explain why this is so, this is a superb interdisciplinary look at self-murder. Janison (Psychiatry/Johns Hopkins School of Medicine), author of the bestselling memoir An Unquiet Mind (1995) about her own struggle with manic-depressive illness, here looks at suicide through literary, historical, anthropological, psychological, biochemical, genetic, and epidemiological lenses. She emphasizes the highly disproportionate suicide rates among those suffering from the major mental and mood disorders of depression, manic-depression, and schizophrenia. Jamison also notes a continuum running from risk-taking behavior to suicidal thoughts to actually killing oneself and notes that while approximately 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year, 500,000 attempt to do so (“Ambivalence saturates the suicidal act,” she writes). With much interesting anecdotal material and data from the vast scientific literature on suicide, Jamison ranges far and wide over such topics as suicide notes, national styles in killing oneself (the Germans favor hanging, while in the US, guns are used in about 60 percent of suicides), and seasonal factors (contrary to popular belief, most suicides take place not during winter but during the late spring and summer). Her study is also greatly enhanced by several essays, in which Jamison delves into the suicide of noteworthy people. She writes particularly insightfully on the difficulty of predicting suicidal behavior and on the sensibility of the suicide, who usually lives with an anguished “sense of the unmanageable, of hopelessness, of invasive negativity about the future.” Although her data on suicide sometimes seem overwhelming and a few individual statistics a bit loose, Jamison’s book generally is a very well written, substantial, and consistently interesting study of a wrenching existential and societal problem that has reached epidemic proportions. (First printing of 175,000)

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40145-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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