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Book Forum: Suicide   |    
Comprehending Suicide: Landmarks in 20th-Century Suicidology
Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:885-a-886. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.5.885-a
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Iowa City, Iowa

By Edwin S. Shneidman, Ph.D. Washington, D.C., American Psychological Association, 2001, 272 pp., $39.95.

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This book is a review of selected articles or textbook chapters written during the past century. The author, Edwin Shneidman, has spent a lifetime researching suicide. He feels that these selected works are among the best from the 20th century. Specific criteria are not listed to explain why these particular writings were chosen, but Dr. Shneidman says these works will be useful for "fresh insights" for suicide researchers and others interested in this topic. Dr. Shneidman is currently an emeritus professor of thanatology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has published several articles and books about suicide.

The book is divided into five general sections: Historical and Literary Insights; Sociological Insights; Biological Insights; Psychiatric and Psychological Insights; and Insights on Survivors and Volunteers. Thirteen articles or books are reviewed in the five sections. Each chapter contains a brief review of the selected book or article. Following this review, parts of the original work are reprinted. Authors represented in the book include Minois, Alvarez, Durkheim, Dublin, Iga, Stoff and Mann, Karl Menninger, Baechler, Aaron, Maltsberger and Goldblatt, Cain, Varah, and Colt.

Much of the book is devoted to writers who seem to view suicide from the psychological perspective. The sociological section of the book has three chapters. These works are more data based. The biological insight section has only one chapter. Much of the book is written in a lyrical style, both by the original authors and by Dr. Shneidman. The data-oriented sociological chapters are prosaic in style and discuss studies that were conducted several decades ago. These studies appear not to have had the benefit of current-day improvements in statistics and assessment. They also lack the improved understanding of methodological limitations of certain kinds of population sampling techniques and interviews.

In summary, those readers who would like to explore suicide from a psychological, personal, or philosophical view may enjoy the brief historical snippets of selected text and articles about suicide contained in this book. Readers who want more data-oriented or biological insights about suicide should fire up their web browser or head to their friendly corner medical library for other reviews, texts, or scientific articles about suicide.




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