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Friedman, I. (1968). Essays in Self-Destruction. Edited by Edwin D. Schneidman, Ph.D. New York: Science House, Inc., 1967, 541 pp., $ 12.50.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 28(2):216-216.

(1968). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 28(2):216-216

Essays in Self-Destruction. Edited by Edwin D. Schneidman, Ph.D. New York: Science House, Inc., 1967, 541 pp., $ 12.50.

Review by:
Irving Friedman, M.D.

If there is any place in this country where it could be said that the citizenry is preoccupied with “The American Way of Death,” that place is the State of California. What better place, then, to establish a center for the scientific study of self-destruction? Since 1958, such an institution has actually been in operation, in the city of Los Angeles. The Suicide Prevention Center has been supported by grants from the National Institute for Mental Health, and Dr. Schneidman was co-director of the work there. His purpose in editing this book, wherein members of the Center and others were given carte blanche on the subject of self-destruction, resulted in a number of very interesting essays. The volume is divided into four sections, and the essays grouped according to their contents, i.e., literary, sociological, psychiatric, and forensic approaches. If the reader is stimulated to think on the subject of suicide in an original manner, then the purpose of the essays would be fulfilled. Except for the essay on psychological post-mortems by Dr. Curphey, none of the articles give us answers; rather, they pose many questions, and some of the essays point to areas where much fruitful research would be initiated.

It is obvious that the authors concur in the idea that the study of suicide is really a study of human character structure. The viewpoint that self-destruction can be accomplished in many ways, that self-realization can be blocked constantly and is a form of gradual self-destruction, is an idea that is pushed in this book, and one which cannot be said too often.

The frustration of self-realization is often carried out in such a blatant manner, that the layman can easily see what is happening, for example the advertising executive who literally drinks himself to death at the height of his career.

One essay presents some guidelines for the study of self-destruction through accidents, especially automobile accidents. Self-destruction can be a daily, continuous, gradual thing. It is the result of a distorted self-image (the despised self) of sufficient energy to eventuate in daily partial death (marked alienation).

Many of the complex motivations for suicide are detailed in this book. The obfuscating style of writing in many of these essays unfortunately tended to distract this reader's attention much too often. However, it is a most helpful book and is recommended to every serious professional worker.

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