WHY WE KILL OURSELVES
University of Chicago Press
November 5, 2018
6.0 × 9.0 in / 272 pages
* Published in the UK as A Very Human Ending: How Suicide Haunts Our Species.
For much of his thirties, Jesse Bering thought he was probably going to kill himself. He was a successful psychologist and writer, with books to his name and bylines in major magazines. But none of that mattered. The impulse to take his own life remained. At times it felt all but inescapable.
Bering survived. And in addition to relief, the fading of his suicidal thoughts brought curiosity. Where had they come from? Would they return? Is the suicidal impulse found in other animals? Or is our vulnerability to suicide a uniquely human evolutionary development? In Suicidal, Bering answers all these questions and more, taking us through the science and psychology of suicide, revealing its cognitive secrets and the subtle tricks our minds play on us when we’re easy emotional prey. Scientific studies, personal stories, and remarkable cross-species comparisons come together to help readers critically analyze their own doomsday thoughts while gaining broad insight into a problem that, tragically, will most likely touch all of us at some point in our lives. But while the subject is certainly a heavy one, Bering’s touch is light. Having been through this himself, he knows that sometimes the most effective response to our darkest moments is a gentle humor, one that, while not denying the seriousness of suffering, at the same time acknowledges our complicated, flawed, and yet precious existence.
Authoritative, accessible, personal, profound—there’s never been a book on suicide like this. It will help you understand yourself and your loved ones, and it will change the way you think about this most vexing of human problems.
Reviews and endorsements
"Bering carefully balances his natural whimsy and avid curiosity with deep compassion in this look at how suicidal urges work ... Both heartening and deeply illuminating.” — Publishers Weekly
"By the time you finish reading these sentences someone in the world will have committed suicide. Why do more than a million people a year kill themselves? To answer this question we need a brilliant research scientist, an insightful psychologist, and a sensitive but powerful writer who has seriously contemplated taking their own life. Jesse Bering fits all three criteria and the book you hold in your hands is a deeply moving narrative that cuts to the heart of the ultimate question any of us could ever ask: why should I live? Given what’s at stake in the topic, Suicidal may very well be the most important book you will ever read.” — Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine
"Jesse Bering asks the questions no one else dares, he tells truths that others shy away from, and he writes the books that I wish I had written. To me, he is everything a great scientist and communicator should be. Suicide may be an uncomfortable subject yet the escalating numbers of people who take their lives each year means we must make it’s unravelling our priority. I have no doubt this book will have a profound impact on all who read it, and add considerably to our understanding of that self-willed oblivion, whether it lies palpably just beneath our own skin, or the skins of those we love. But perhaps most importantly of all it will help dispel the stigma and shame that so perniciously clings to all suicides." — Dr. Christian Jessen
"Sadly, the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, our minds forever pulling us into dark forests. But there are numerous stages at which we can step off that path before it's too late. Drawing on research evidence and the world around us, Bering signposts and, we can hope, saves.” — Dr. Jon Sutton editor of The Psychologist
“A brave and important exploration of a subject we urgently need to demystify. It will change every reader for the better.” — Derren Brown
“Jesse Bering is the best science writer at work today." —Dan Savage
"I'm not surprised that a book on suicide would be very personal, but I didn’t expect it to be so damn funny. It's also engaging, thoughtful, and sensitive--although Bering is certainly irreverent, there is a real appreciation of how painful and difficult this topic can be. This is a book for scholars and for a general audience, but it is also entirely suitable for people whose lives have been touched by the suicide of someone they loved.” — Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy
“In Suicidal, Jesse Bering explores one of the most essential questions we all face: Why keep living? He doesn't claim to have found any easy answers, but his exploration is surprising, funny, touching, and deeply personal. Suicidal feels like a gift, and reading it reminded me that encounters with great books are reason enough, for now, to keep going.” — Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn
"For such a fiercely complex subject with varying nuances, viewpoints, and interpretations, Bering imparts accessible information through an affable, conversational tone . . . illuminates a murky, misunderstood human quandary with compassion, confessional honesty, and academic perception.” — Kirkus Reviews
"Touches upon some deep questions relevant to all of us ... Bering is refreshingly direct. He grasps nettles and assiduously avoids clichés. A Very Human Ending transcends its own objectives. It is a fascinating, thoughtful, unflinching meditation on one of the most intriguing and curious aspects of the human condition.” —Evening Standard
“[An] affecting study of suicide … a disturbing but compelling book. This isn’t just a mix of statistics, academic arguments and moving case studies. Bering also writes from the inside as one who, since his teenage years, has, at times, felt what he refers to as the ‘call to oblivion’.” — The Guardian
“Bering has created an empathetic and moving odyssey into a universe of cognition in which the embrace of death is a welcome friend rather than a looming chasm … A fascinating scientific journey.” – The Catholic Herald
"Suicide is one of the toughest subjects to write about, and psychologist Jesse Bering does it with candor, scientific integrity and genuine empathy ...The book itself is a testament to the human spirit. Suicidal is a vital book--informative, engaging and enlightening despite its dark subject matter.” — Shelf Awareness