Sometimes, the legacy of depression includes a wisdom beyond one’s years, a depth of passion unexperienced by those who haven’t traveled to hell and back. Off the charts in its enlightening, comprehensive analysis of this pervasive yet misunderstood condition, The Noonday Demon forges a long, brambly path through the subject of depression–exposing all the discordant views and “answers” offered by science, philosophy, law, psychology, literature, art, and history. The result is a sprawling and thoroughly engrossing study, brilliantly synthesized by author Andrew Solomon. Deceptively simple chapter titles (including “Breakdowns,” “Treatments,” “Addiction,” “Suicide”) each sit modestly atop a virtual avalanche of Solomon’s intellect. This is not a book to be skimmed. But Solomon commands the language–and his topic–with such grace and empathy that the constant flow of references, poems, and quotations in his paragraphs arrive like welcome dinner guests.
A longtime sufferer of severe depression himself, Solomon willingly shares his life story with readers. He discusses updated information on various drugs and treatment approaches while detailing his own trials with them. He describes a pharmaceutical company’s surreal stage production (involving Pink Floyd, kick dancers, and an opener à la Cats ) promoting a new antidepressant to their sales team. He chronicles his research visits to assorted mental institutions, which left him feeling he would ” much rather engage with every manner of private despair than spend a protracted time” there. Under Solomon’s care, however, such tales offer much more than shock value. They show that depression knows no social boundaries, manifests itself quite differently in each person, and has become political. And, while it may worsen or improve, depression will never be eradicated. Hope lies in finding ways–as Solomon clearly has–to harness its powerful lessons. –Liane Thomas