Sorrows of a Century

Sorrows of a Century

Interpreting Suicide in New Zealand, 1900–2000

Out of print

Focusing on New Zealand’s comprehensive and accessible coroners’ records, John Weaver analyses some twelve thousand cases to determine the social and cultural factors that contribute to suicide rates. He examines the official investigations into sudden deaths, placing them within the context of major events and societal changes. This remarkable assessment spans witness statements, suicide notes and medical records to provide new insights on prevention strategies.

A powerful and poignant analysis of the motives for suicide, set amidst the challenges of the twentieth century.

Co-published with McGill-Queen's University Press.

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Please note that this title is available for New Zealand customers only. For international orders, please contact McGill-Queens University Press.

Table of contents


1 Long-Term Perspectives: Chronology, Gender, Life-Course, Ethnicity, and Method
2 Relationships: Sex, Alcohol, and Violence, 1900–80
3 Dark Days and Golden Weather: Despair and Work, 1900–80
4 Life Diminished: Illness and Trauma, 1900–2000
5 Mental Illnesses: Representation and Therapy, 1900–2000
6 The Youth Suicide Panic: Framing a Mental Health Crisis, 1988–96
7 What Is Happening to Our Children? Youth Suicides, 1980–2000
8 Decisions: Impulse and Reason in Historical Time, 1900–2000

Conclusion: History’s Patterns and Prevention’s Obstacles
Appendix One: Methodology
Appendix Two: Writing Style

Print publication:
Ebook publication: Jun 2014
Pages: 450
RRP: $59.99
ISBN: 9781927277232
ISTC: A022013000006284
DOI: 10.7810/9781927277232

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Listen to John Weaver speak with Wallace Chapman on Radio New Zealand

Read an interview with John Weaver in the NZ Herald


'[Weaver] provides a superb grounding for the opening up of new conversations, and a comprehensive base for further focused study.' Debra Powell, Journal of New Zealand and Pacific Studies, 3.2, 2015

‘In the end, the power of this book is the mass of human testimony and case histories, sensitively described and set in long-run historical context that drives home the complexity of the need some human beings feel to take their own lives and the critical role of the economy and social institutions in making troubled lives bearable.’ Janet McCalman, American Historical Review, June 2015

‘John Weaver lets the light into a dark and sad corner of our past … Diverse illustrations underpin the poignancy. The book makes for compelling reading.’ Warwick Brunton, Journal of New Zealand Studies

Sorrows of a Century is an overwhelmingly formidable work, as tremendous a crossover academic feat as anything by a Jared Diamond, Simon Baren-Cohen or Steven Pinker. So put down that warm gun and be happy. Nothing quite like it has appeared in New Zealand before.’ David Cohen, New Zealand Books

‘One of the things I really liked about the book is the respect it gives to the voices of those who died. They emerge through suicide notes, joined by the evidence of witnesses, police officers, doctors and coroners. The book brims with life from those voices … The prominence of these voices characterises the book almost as a democratic discourse. They resonate with me just as much as Weaver’s discussion, which will satisfy his aim for insight rather than theory. He is doubtful of what masquerades as science in this field. Complexities are too readily masked by statistics. His historian’s restraint is persuasive … The book balances scholarly assessment with wisdom and academic humility. It offers a basis for a better informed response to those who, within our midst, are prone to despair. Beyond health professionals and social workers, it offers engaging reading for the rest of us. I found myself nodding in agreement with much of what I read – and there were facts and trends that surprised me. I am glad Weaver has shared his insight.’ John Adams, Metro

'I am very happy to endorse this book. It is a most impressive and thorough work, which combines a robust analytical approach to an extremely emotional and challenging area of human behaviour with very revealing facts. The whole field of research into and commentary on suicide is fraught with misconceptions, non-evidence based supposition and theories. A work such as this performs a valuable function by giving an illuminating insight into what is really happening behind troubling statistics.’Judge MacLean, Chief Coroner

‘This is a very important study of a pressing national problem, one deserving of widespread attention.’ John Dawson, Faculty of Law, University of Otago

Sorrows of a Century makes important contributions to New Zealand history, to histories of suicide, and to the wider scholarship of historical and archival methods... it is clearly the work of an accomplished historian and writer.’ Catharine Coleborne, History Programme, School of Social Sciences, University of Waikato