Book Review: The Noonday Demon

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An interview with Dr. Andrew Solomon at Gracie Mansion

Andrew Solomon walked out from a side entrance at Gracie Mansion and hugged the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, who was standing at a podium introducing him. It was a frigid December evening, dangerously close to Christmas, and the room was filled to capacity.

Dr. Solomon holds a BA in English from Yale University, MS in English, Jesus College, Cambridge and a Ph.D. in psychology from Jesus College, Cambridge. Dressed in an elegant suit, white shirt and tie, he appears confident and in control when speaking publicly. His career and personal lives can only be described as extraordinarily successful. He is a professor of psychology at Columbia University, the president of the PEN American Center and a regular contributor to a number of publications. His books, and there are at least five, have all received national awards and attention. He speaks often of his marriage to John Habich and their two children. They have homes in New York and London.

The program at Gracie Mansion was the first in the third season of the Gracie Book Club, founded by the First Lady to read and discuss books around the topic of mental health. More information can be found at nyc.gov/GracieBookClub.

The Noonday Demon was the first book in the series and Dr. Solomon was interviewed by Prachi Gupta, a senior reporter at Jezebel and a former co-host of Jezebel’s former politics podcast.

When Dr. Solomon began to talk and answer questions, the audience was taken not only with his grasp of every aspect of depression and mental health issues, but his ability to articulate his thoughts so clearly. One of the reasons is because he suffers from severe depression. As he writes in Noonday: “Twenty years have passed since my first serious depression. I’ve had mental illness for nearly half my life, and I can no longer imagine myself without it.” There are few people who are as open as he is about living with depression.

The book takes you through discussions and case studies of breakdowns, treatments, alternatives, addiction, suicide, history, poverty, politics, evolution, hope and finally a last chapter entitled “Since.”

A chapter that is particularly interesting is the history of depression: “Disruptions long called melancholia are now signified by the strangely casual word depression, which was first used in English to describe low spirits in 1660, and which came into common usage in the mid-nineteenth century. I use depression here to describe states for which we would now use that term. It is fashionable to look at depression as a modern complaint, and this is a gross error.”

The Noonday Demon is a fascinating read. It’s a long book and one can delve into various chapters and use it as a reference source. If you have ever suffered from depression or know someone who has (and don’t all of us at one time or another?) then this is a book that should be on your bookshelf and added to your reading list.

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