“There is something brazen about depression,” Andrew Solomon writes. “Most demons—most forms of anguish—rely on the cover of night; to see them clearly is to defeat them. Depression stands in the full glare of the sun, unchallenged by recognition.” And so Solomon titles his book The Noonday Demon, after a fourth-century monk’s term for melancholic dejection.
This demon first visited Solomon just after his senior year in college, and he has been subjected to crippling episodes since. He shares the science and literature around the affliction. He travels the world, trying various purported cures, including one in Senegal in which he’s tied up with the intestines of a freshly slaughtered ram. He covers the subjective experience of depression, which he defines as “grief out of proportion to circumstance,” as well as its biological evolution, social history and relationship to addiction and suicide.
Solomon is a psychology professor at Columbia University and regular contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Times. His book earned wide acclaim for its lyricism and depth, winning a National Book Award and named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, treatments have not progressed enough since its 2001 publication to outdate it, but despite the book’s unflinching look at a pernicious malady, it maintains an aura of hope.