June 29, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Noonday Demon

Current Status
In Season
Andrew Solomon
Self-Help and Psychology, Nonfiction
We gave it an A-

There are ugly, frightening moments in the ”Noonday Demon” Andrew Solomon’s treatise on the ”slippery demon” that is depression. Many of them involve the author, who writes explicitly about his debilitating breakdowns, the first of which cracked its whip when he was 30. Solomon’s dissection of a disease defined by dread and confusion is frank and clearheaded, as are the varied voices of experience recorded here, from the underexamined poor to the Inuit peoples of Greenland. But this book is more than a string of wrenching personal anecdotes. Particularly valuable are sections devoted to treatment and history, which tear to shreds the assumption that depression is a curable affliction of the modern-day middle class. Readers should brace themselves for horrifying cases like the woman who can’t stop cutting herself and a child plagued by ”banging hammers in my head.” And trust that the last chapter, ”Hope,” is lovely, transcendent and believable.

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