cover image Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It

Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It

Jennifer Michael Hecht. Yale Univ., $26 (280p) ISBN 978-0-300-18608-6

Suicide as a concept has been praised, defended, and vilified in various contexts throughout history as poet and scholar Hecht (Doubt: A History) painstakingly illustrates in this nuanced and unsettling work, whose title acts as a rallying refrain throughout. Hecht's scrutiny of "despair suicide" begins with the personal%E2%80%94the destabilizing deaths of two poet friends in quick succession. Though the word "suicide" wasn't invented until the 17th century, the discussion carefully follows attitudes from myth, religion, philosophy, and literature as Hecht welcomes the voices of an impressive cast of thinkers. Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy is examined as well as the thinking of Socrates, John Milton, and Anne Sexton. While the statistics are harrowing%E2%80%94one suicide can influence others as research emphatically shows%E2%80%94the book's conclusions are hopeful. Gratitude is owed to those who reject suicide, according to Hecht, not only by the community but also by one's "future self" who may be days, months, or years away. Like death, life can inspire, because one's "ideas matter." (Nov.)