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Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Jennifer Michael Hecht

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3. Januar 2014
Many thousands of people kill themselves every year, and many more are left behind to grieve. Distressing statistics show that suicide rates are rising, and studies confirm that suicide causes more suicide, both among those who knew the person and even among strangers who feel some connection. In this highly original book Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her grief for two friends lost to suicide into a search for history's most persuasive arguments against the irretrievable act. Hecht recounts individual suicide cases from the Bible and ancient Greeks to the present day and analyzes how ideas about suicide have changed over time. She explains several puzzling aspects of attitudes toward suicide, including the strange fact that secular philosophy has long been associated with a pro-suicide attitude. In our own times, when the influence of religious prohibitions has waned, Hecht finds that we lack shared, secular, logical arguments against suicide. But there are such arguments, and she focuses new attention on these forgotten ideas that offer hope in the face of despair and powerful reasons to stay when suicide seems a tempting choice.


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"A humanist case for embracing life, as armor against cynicism. . . . Stay is compassionate, clear, rich, and even funny."--Temma Ehrenfeld, "The Humanist Magazine"--Temma Ehrenfeld "The Humanist Magazine "

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of three history books, including the best-selling Doubt: A History, and three volumes of poetry. Her work has won major awards in intellectual history and in poetry. Hecht teaches poetry at the New School University in Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Choose to stay 1. Dezember 2013
Von Tim K - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition
I've become interested in the topic of suicide given the many young lives lost recently to the act. I happened upon Hecht's book and knew of her work through her older book, "Doubt." Haven't had read anything by Hecht, I didn't really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised.

"Stay" has two main goals: (i) bring to light the historic arguments against suicide, and (ii) provide two secular arguments for staying alive.

On (i), Hecht does a wonderful job of detailing the historical views taken on suicide. She hits upon all the major thinkers who have talked about suicide in their writings. All have, for one reason or another, rejected suicide. Even though some ancient suicides were heralded for particular reasons, on the whole, suicide wasn't seen as a legitimate option.

On (ii), Hecht provides us with two persuasive arguments against suicide. Though I'll leave the details to the reader, the first is the "Argument of Community," which essentially says we owe it to our family, friends, and society at large to remain alive. Suicide has a reverberating effect in society, with suicide clusters being a legitimate phenomena (the chapter "Modern Social Science on Community and Influence" provides some fascinating data on suicide contagion and clusters). Hecht's second argument is based on what we owe our future selves. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, as the saying goes. Not only do we owe it to our community to stay alive, we owe it to ourselves because we never know what the future holds.

Hecht traces the concept of suicide throughout the ages and has done us all a great service. I found much insight in "Stay" and recommend it to anyone who has ever been suicidal, is suicidal, or those who just want people in the other two camps to stay strong and stay alive.

Hecht's final paragraph is worth repeating: "None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings--the endless possibilities that living offers--and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles.

Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay. Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. First, choose to stay" (page 234).
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2.0 von 5 Sternen Interesting as a history book, but perplexing and out-dated as a secular anti-suicide argument 28. November 2013
Von Trang Nguyen - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
If you are interested in the history of suicide but cannot afford time to read all the major literature written about it, or don't know where to start, this book might come in handy. However, it does NOT offer a proper perspective on this delicate subject, and it stigmatizes people who attempt or die by suicide. For a better understanding of suicide, please visit, or cross-reference the information you've got from this book with different sources.

In her preface, Hetch asserts that she ultimately aims to revivify "a secular, logical anti-suicide consensus" by first establishing a historical context for the discourse on suicide -- dated way back to the ancient world of Roman Republic, then presenting the reader an accumulation of unflinching and impassioned philosophical arguments against suicide.

I'll make no comment on the historical section because I'm not knowledgeable enough on that aspect. On the other hand, I've got a lot to say about her reasoning against suicide and the way she addresses it. Before we go further, I also want to make it clear that I am not supporting suicide as problem solving, with the exception of carefully advised and monitored euthanasia for extreme cases (such as terminal illness).

The book perplexes me on many levels. Why? Let's break it down!

Despite her statement that she passes no judgment on those who did or contemplate the act, Hecht's arguments stigmatize suicide and the suicidal all the same. She equates suicide with delayed homicide, even alludes to it as self-murder at times; presumes that suicide is a choice made in a lucid state of mind; and worst of all, puts a partial blame on people who die by suicide for triggering chained suicides, also known as suicide clusters.

I think the problem is that Hecht has spent an intensive amount of time researching historical materials but not enough on contemporary debates and conditions of the subject.

First, by definition, homicide or murder is the premeditated killing of another person, done with MALICE intention. Suicidal people kill themselves because they want their suffering to stop, thus suicide cannot be considered a crime in the same sense murder is.

Second, the current consensus is that suicide is caused by different reasons--depression, insanity, abuse, drugs or substance abuse, extreme loss, existential crisis, etc. But the number one cause of suicide is untreated depression. 90% of people who died by suicide suffered from excruciating physical or/and emotional pain which caused them the impulses to end their life. Most people are not in a stable or coherent mentality when the thought of suicide occurs. Therefore, suicide-while preventable-is not a lucid choice.

Furthermore, even when suicide is contagious, it should not be one of the arguments for anti-suicide. On the other hand, it is nobody's fault that some mind is vulnerable or susceptible to external influences. And, really, people should not be responsible for others when they can't even function for themselves; I also think that telling people their decision to live or die can cause or hasten others' demise usually only fuel more anxiety and distress.

Her appeal to suicidal people who are, and I quote, "sufficiently lucid as to be available to be reached through argument": Live because we owe it to the community, family, and our future self.

I found this argument terribly trite because I see it as a common sense. One does not need to read philosophical literature to arrive at this idea. The concept that our life intertwines with those around us is neither new nor forgotten, it is ingrained in many cultures. At least, in my culture, we've always been taught that we owe each other to live. Same for the idea that perseverance will yield rewards.

However, this brings us back to the assertion that, in most cases, attempts of suicide occur when the mind is muddled and distorted, and there is no outside intervention. Thus, such reasoning might not be effective at all.

In a section of her book, Hecht cited Anne Sexton's heartfelt writing on her despair, and then asserted that her crisis wasn't uncommon. And if the writer understood she wasn't alone, she might have not chosen to die. This whole part perplexed me because Hecht seemed to either fail to grasp or choose to ignore the fact that Sexton clearly suffered from severe depression.

I applaud Hetch for her intention and intensive research. I also agree with her that we need to strengthen the bond between community and individuals, as well as among individuals. However, with all due respect, I disagree with her view on suicide and her conclusion on the subject.

Again, suicide can't be equalized with either delayed-homicide or self-murder. The number one cause of suicide is untreated depression. Depression, as well as suicide, is not a choice. Depressed and suicidal people need to get medical or psychiatric help, not a philosophical lesson.

Most of all, suicide, like depression, should not be associated with any stigmas.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen "I wish I were dead" 2. März 2014
Von Keith Fahey - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
If you've ever had the above thought, this book's for you.

The death-wish syndrome is the first symptom of the suicidal impulse. If you feel such seizures, that's the time to seek a counter-impulse: "I want to live." Don't wait until you're staring at the pills or the gun or the bridge. Make this book your bridge: check it out at the first death-wish impulse. I promise you: Jennifer Michael Hecht's "Stay" is a good place to start.

Because my parents were self-destructive -- one a rifle-shot suicide -- I've always, in defeat or crisis, had to fight the reflex, "I wish I were dead." I've also had a stronger desire not to destroy myself. First thing: I refused to buy a gun. Lead me not into temptation ...

I was 16 when my dad killed himself; I'll be 70 on my next birthday. I've resisted the glooms for a long time, and have kept alive a certain humor and joy. "Moby-Dick" was most vital in my mid 20s, especially the first paragraph, which I have often thought is worth libraries -- mentioned here because Hecht gives "Moby" too little discussion.

Yet many of the life-wish motivators discovered on my own are explored in "Stay." If you are in a mild or strong depression and find it hard to motivate yourself, you can find many hints of your own worth in "Stay." Reminders too of how you might be missing how other people value you, a point strongly made in "Stay," especially when Hecht discusses her grief and anger at the loss of two friends to suicide.

When things were at their worst for me, I recalled people who had proven their love -- or at least their respect -- for me. They would be stunned, sad, and angry if I killed myself. And some former admirers might think, "If he finds life hateful, why should I stay?"

That alone can be a good reason to live: it would be terrible if others imitated my final despair. And what might they, in their current respect, see that I'm now too close-minded to see?

More important, I gave myself a reason to live. It might be delusion, I may not succeed in my life-goal, but I remain quite happy with this possible epitaph, "He died trying."

I'm not interested in suicide as a rational debate. I do not want to hear arguments for suicide, many of which strike me -- almost a literal blow -- as hollow and cowardly. It's not rational to despise the life force within; it's the height of reason to find a reason to live by opposing the greedy, the corrupt, the power-mad. And, as I read some years ago, if you kill yourself, how will you know how your story came out?

Yes, some physical diseases can warp the spirit, but how is it that we are often inspired by "suffering souls suffering greatly"? (See Edith Hamilton's discussion of tragedy in "The Greek Way.")

Mental disease is less hopeless; unchecked it can spread, but it can also be countered by comic or other life-affirming contagions. Comedy, by the way, is often inseparable from sorrow or pain; is often, indeed, closely allied with horror, as Vincent Price and his buddies helped me learn in their delightful fright shows.

And so I'm interested in people who are struggling to keep their life-wish alive, and want to sow different seeds: cultivate those stronger seeds to produce a different yield.

Yield: the word also suggests acceptance: no joy without some pain. Would you stomp the rose because a thorn pricked you, and you shed a little blood?

It's a choice: We can seek to die, or we can seek to live. Lives can change directions. We can find a different way to live.

Try "Stay," and live out your life for yourself.
43 von 56 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen Oh no 21. November 2013
Von Dulcinea - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
While I appreciate the good intentions behind this book, I was distressed by some of the messages. Some people do lucidly choose to die, but many others commit suicide because of mental illness. Society has progressed a long way since the mentally ill were treated like criminals. Sadly, it seems the author would like us to revert to those times. She argues that suicide is morally wrong and equates those who commit suicide to murderers -- not just of themselves but of others who are influenced by witnessing or hearing about suicide and who then choose to take their own lives. By that logic, people who commit suicide are mass murderers. I find that conclusion appalling. Just because one person commits an act, it does not make that person guilty for everyone else in the world who commits the same act. The idea is ludicrous and dangerous. People who commit suicide are not immoral or criminals, nor should they be treated as such. The mentally ill face enough stigmas, enough hatred, and enough guilt without being told that they are immoral people because of their illnesses. Moral judgments should not be attached to health conditions that people cannot control. So many people already refuse to get help because they are afraid of being judged. Books like this will make the problem worse. There are many other influences in society that contribute to suicides and are worth fighting against -- and that have nothing to do with blaming someone who is ill.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Not Neutral on Suicide, Nor Should We Be 19. Juli 2014
Von Dorothy Paugh - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
As someone who has endured the loss of two family members to suicide, I am not impartial. Hecht's work is a rational, secular rallying cry that digests 2,500 years of writing on the subject of suicide. Her thoughtful analysis constructs a buttress to counteract the downward force set in motion by the catastrophic loss of a loved one to suicide. She seeks to engage the minds of those who may be contemplating suicide out of despair and encourage them to stay among the living, for the sake of others and most especially, for the sake of their future selves.

Hecht does not want anyone to give up for lack of a cogent reason to stay and brings the weight of the world's great thinkers to bear on the side of affirming life. Rather than be blindsided by the despair that almost inevitably afflicts every one of us, she asks us to consider where we stand on suicide in advance, before the turmoil and trance come upon us, while we can use the considerable power of our rational minds. This mental preparation may prevent some impulsive suicides. Interviews with those who survive attempts show many conceive of the idea and act to end their lives in less than one hour.

For centuries, religions have added to the suffering of those left behind by painting the lost loved one as a sinner who cannot be redeemed. Enlightenment thinkers lifted the burden of shame and made suicide morally neutral, a medical condition and even an individual right. Hecht finds it an oversimplification that religions are against suicide while rational thinkers are not. Hecht believes a personal and cultural stance against the act of suicide helps protect many who might otherwise be seduced into escaping this life prematurely.

Each one of us is an independent person, but each also affects and is affected by many others, more than we can know, for better or worse. It is well documented that one suicide often triggers imitation by those who were close to or who identify with the suicide. Reports of suicide are harmful without the whole context to include its catastrophic effects on others and resources for help. Positive intervention after a suicide--sharing our grief and healing work--stems the contagion.

Building a sense of community where suffering is acknowledged, accepted and shared helps immensely not just in the aftermath of suicide, but also as a preventive. It is my fervent hope to prevent as many suicides as possible in the first place. We have to talk with someone about our disappointments, failures, fears, sorrow and confusion. As a society, we need to glorify more than winning, material success, power, fame and beauty. We all need models, concepts and skills to equip us for enduring tedium, pain and depression. When it becomes too much, we need to unashamedly reach out for help.

My father took his life when I was a child. That one fact tripled my own risk of suicide. Knowing this, for many years, I read everything I could find on the meaning of life and eventually made a conscious decision that no matter how hard my life might become, how worthless and hurt I might feel, I would not end my life. I believe it matters very much what ideas we let take hold in our minds and what we take to heart. My resolution to live held strong when a tragedy I never imagined came to pass.

My middle son Peter ended his life two years ago without warning at the age of 25. He was a man of science, respected at work with a girlfriend and family that loved him. Although raised attending church, he doubted the reality of the spiritual. He prized his intelligence and might have listened to a secular, rational argument against suicide like the one Hecht articulates. Peter was too young to know that although we cannot see over the horizon, our lives will change, many times over in the course of a natural lifetime. His note to me said "something is wrong with me and life seems like too much of a burden." He did not know that suffering and despair are normal, part and parcel of life but not the whole of it.

My resurgent resolution to live drives me to share a message of hope that values this life with all its terrible shocks. We may not know whether death brings relief or peace, but we do know life here can eventually bring great joy, deeper, more potent and lasting than happiness or pain, which are often fleeting. As Hecht says, it's not just for others we choose to stay, but also for our own potential selves. Too much brilliance and sensitivity has already been lost to the world.
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