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Oct 6, 2023

Clancy Martin (University of Missouri in Kansas City; Ashoka University in Delhi, India) 

How not to kill yourself: A portrait of the suicidal mind.

FINALIST FOR THE KIRKUS PRIZE FOR NONFICTION • A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK • An intimate, insightful, at times even humorous blend of memoir and philosophy that examines why the thought of death is so compulsive for some while demonstrating that there’s always another solution—from the acclaimed writer and philosophy professor, based on his viral essay, “I’m Still Here.”

“A deep meditation that searches through Martin’s past looking for answers about why he is the way he is, while also examining the role suicide has played in our culture for centuries, how it has evolved, and how philosophers have examined it.” —

“A rock for people who’ve been troubled by suicidal ideation, or have someone in their lives who is.” —
The New York Times

“If you’re going to write a book about suicide, you have to be willing to say the true things, the scary things, the humiliating things. Because everybody who is being honest with themselves knows at least a little bit about the subject. If you lie or if you fudge, the reader will know.”

The last time Clancy Martin tried to kill himself was in his basement with a dog leash. It was one of over ten attempts throughout the course of his life. But he didn’t die, and like many who consider taking their own lives, he hid the attempt from his wife, family, coworkers, and students, slipping back into his daily life with a hoarse voice, a raw neck, and series of vague explanations.

In How Not to Kill Yourself, Martin chronicles his multiple suicide attempts in an intimate depiction of the mindset of someone obsessed with self-destruction. He argues that, for the vast majority of suicides, an attempt does not just come out of the blue, nor is it merely a violent reaction to a particular crisis or failure, but is the culmination of a host of long-standing issues. He also looks at the thinking of a number of great writers who have attempted suicide and detailed their experiences (such as David Foster Wallace, Yiyun Li, Akutagawa, Nelly Arcan, and others), at what the history of philosophy has to say both for and against suicide, and at the experiences of those who have reached out to him across the years to share their own struggles.

The result combines memoir with critical inquiry to powerfully give voice to what for many has long been incomprehensible, while showing those presently grappling with suicidal thoughts that they are not alone, and that the desire to kill oneself—like other self-destructive desires—is almost always temporary and avoidable.


Clancy Martin, a Canadian, is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and at Ashoka University in Delhi, India. He divides his time between Kansas City and India. He is married to the writer Amie Barrodale, and has five children: Zelly, Margaret, Portia Ratna and Kali, and an unruly labradoodle, Simha. A Guggenheim Fellow, his work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He writes fiction, nonfiction and philosophy. He is a contributing editor for Harper's magazine and Vice magazine, and has published academic and popular articles, essays and Op-Ed pieces in such diverse places as New Yorker, The New York Times, Harper's, New Republic, 1843/The Economist, Lapham's Quarterly, The Atlantic, Ethics, The Wall Street Journal, The Journal of the History of Philosophy, Elle, Details, Men's Journal, The London Times, The London Review of Books, De Repubblicca, and many others. He is a contributor to the Teaching Company's "Great Courses" series. His work has been optioned for television/film development by Sony, HBO, Anonymous Content and other production companies. His most recent work is on suicide, failed suicide and suicidal ideation. He is a recovering alcoholic, and has written and been interviewed extensively about alcoholism, addiction and suicide.