“In her eloquent and affecting book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against
It, Jennifer Michael Hecht presents two big counterideas that she hopes people contemplating
potential suicides will keep in their heads. Her first is that, ‘Suicide is delayed homicide.’
Suicides happen in clusters, with one person’s suicide influencing the other’s. . . . Her second
argument is that you owe it to your future self to live.”
— David Brooks, New York Times
“The author of the best-selling Doubt offers a history of suicide and of arguments against it. . . .
Even Camus, who found the search for meaning as absurd as pushing the same boulder up a cliff
every day, urged his readers to ‘imagine Sisyphus happy,’ and to live.”
— New Yorker
“Stay is more than a must-read — it’s a cultural necessity.”
— Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
“A history not only of suicide, but how we think about suicide. . . . Hecht proposes her own
argument against suicide in the secular, modern world, presenting a humanist call for life.”
— Thomas Flynn, The Daily Beast
Stay “is rigorous and deeply rewarding, both accessible and challenging.”
— Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
For Immediate Release: Publication Date November 12, 2013
Contact: Brenda King, Publicity Director,firstname.lastname@example.org , 203-432-0917
A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It
By Jennifer Michael Hecht
At a time when suicide rates in the U.S. are rising sharply, a leading public critic reminds us
of the compelling reasons people throughout time have found to stay alive.
More people now die of suicide than in car accidents. In the past 10 years, suicide rates among
middle-aged Americans have risen sharply, rates are increasing among young people worldwide,
and, in the U.S. military, we’re losing more soldiers to suicide than to combat. Families, friends,
neighbors are left behind to grieve, with the suffering sometimes reverberating through
generations. Despite these distressing realities, the subject of suicide, long a taboo, is
infrequently talked about. In Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It (Yale
University Press; publication date 12, November 2013; $26.00 hardcover), poet and historian
Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her own grief for two friends and fellow poets lost to suicide
into a search for history’s most persuasive arguments against the irretrievable act—argumentsshe
hopes to bring back into public consciousness.
Hecht demonstrates that other societies in history have given individuals more support in their
struggles with suicide than we get in our secular modern culture, and she argues that we must
do better. Many people think that without the conviction that there is a God who has outlawed
suicide, everyone is free to choose death if they are drawn to it. Hecht reveals the compelling
nonreligious arguments against suicide. Firstly, suicide is morally wrong because it does
profound damage to one’s community, in terms of causing often lifelong pain and, even more
dramatically, in terms of suicidal influence—studies show that one suicide very often leads to
more suicides. Secondly, we owe it to our future selves to survive: we must not let one of our
moods kill off all the others. These ideas have appeared throughout history, in various forms.
From the Stoics and the Bible to Dante, Shakespeare, and such twentiethcentury writers as John
Berryman, Hecht recasts the narrative of our “secular age” in new terms. She shows how
religious prohibitions against selfkilling were replaced by the Enlightenment’s insistence on the
rights of the individual, even when those rights had troubling applications. This transition, she
movingly argues, resulted in a profound cultural and moral loss: the loss of shared, secular,
logical arguments against suicide.
In a position that some will find controversial, Hecht argues that suicide is quite simply wrong,
from a secular point of view. Today there is a culture war that places, on one side, religious
people and ideas of sacredness of all life, and, on the other side, secular people who advocate the
right to take one’s own life. Rarely is the distinction made between despair suicide and suicide
prompted by fatal illness. Why is the progressive, secular side of this debate so comfortable
advocating that healthy people should feel free to take their own lives? In Stay, Hecht argues
that in the fight against dogmatic religion, secular culture wrongly included despair suicide in
its collection of rights. Many secular thinkers have written that suicide is wrong, and have given
exquisite arguments, but their ideas have gotten lost in the overheated culture war. Despair
suicide is too important an issue to allow to be decided by accidents of history.
Stay is written for everyone interested in this fascinating history, for those concerned with
modern ideas about right and wrong, and for those who struggle with suicidal feelings. Hecht
makes a strong moral claim here, based in history, philosophy, and science, but she does so with
deep compassion for those suffering – and with personal understanding of what she refers to as
her own dark times. She holds that the arguments against suicide are not only a negating barrier
to the act, but also a route by which to feel one’s importance in the community, one’s value to
others and to oneself. People experiencing depression or terrible setbacks often feel that they
are a burden and that they would be doing the world a favor by committing suicide. Hecht tells
them that their suicide would be the real burden – encouraging our children, our siblings, and
our friends to do the same – and that by courageously staying alive they give us all a great gift.
We all contribute to the feeling that there is meaning to the human project and people who are
tempted by suicide but resist it are special contributors to that faith in life. Hecht insists that we
all owe them our gratitude. She hopes that knowing we are grateful will help them to stay.
By examining how people in other times have found reasons to stay alive when suicide seems a
tempting choice, Hecht makes a persuasive case against suicide. Writers throughout history have
given us conceptual barriers to suicide with which we ought to be familiar, as a culture. People
are influenced by ideas, and ideas that encourage people to live can save lives. For many readers,
Stay will be an anchor, a necessary and bracing volume in the human struggle to find meaning in
existence and the will to survive and be happy in a difficult world.
Advance Praise for Stay
“The title of this book is an imperative against the departure that is suicide,
and its contents provide a learned, illuminating look at the history of what
is perhaps the darkest secret in all of human behavior.”
— Billy Collins
“Jennifer Michael Hecht addresses the problem of suicidal nihilism
with intellectual sophistication and poetic subtlety. An impassioned defense of life
and rejection of selfslaughter (as Hamlet termed it), Stay is an important book.”
— David Lehman, Editor, The Oxford Book of American Poetry
“In this moving and meaningful book, mythology, poetry, history, and
personal reflection all combine to persuade us to stay right here, among the living.”
— Alan Wolfe, author of Political Evil
“The perfect vehicle for an informed conversation about the
virtues and vices of suicide, this book will literally save lives.”
— Stephen Prothero, author of The American Bible:
How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation
About the Author . . .
Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of three volumes of poetry and three history books,
including the bestselling Doubt: A History and The Happiness Myth.
Hecht’s work has won major awards in intellectual history and in poetry, and her essays and
poetry have recently appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe,
Philadelphia Inquirer, New Yorker, Paris Review, and New Republic. She is a fellow of the New
York Institute for the Humanities, and she teaches poetry in the graduate program of the New
School in Manhattan. She blogs on the website of The Best American Poetry, and her latest book
of poems, Who Said, came out with Copper Canyon in Nov., 2013.
The American Scholar’s Fall 2013 issue features Hecht’s essay on suicide in the military, “To
Live Is an Act of Courage”: “The crisis of suicide among our soldiers and veterans must end.
Here’s how we can stop it.” Another essay, about suicide on college campuses, appears in a
November 2013 issue of The Chronicle Review.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Brenda King, Publicity Director,
Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It
Hardcover ISBN: 9780300186086 eBook ISBN: 9780300187090
By Jennifer Michael Hecht
280 Pages $26.00 Hardcover
Publication Date: November 12, 2013