DRMacIver's Notebook

Book Review: Every Cradle is a Grave by Sarah Perry

Book Review: Every Cradle is a Grave by Sarah Perry

Conent warning: Suicide. No, seriously. There’s a lot of discussion of suicide in this post.

I’m not a huge fan of this book. I want to say “It would be better for this book not have born”, but that’s mostly for the burn rather than because I actually feel that way. I thought it was an interesting read, but I also disagree with it pretty heavily, and think it has mostly failed in its goal.

This is particularly surprising because I would have expected to be a sympathetic audience. Roughly the two main causes of the book are antinatalism (the idea that it is immoral to have children) and the right to suicide. My prior moral positions (which are essentially unchanged) on these issues are:

On top of that I am at least somewhat familiar with Sarah Perry as a writer and while I don’t agree with many of her positions was still vaguely positively inclined towards her.

Given all of the above, I found the book quite disappointing. It is a decent counter to some of the arguments against antinatalism and suicide rights, but I do not feel that it makes a strong case for either. The case made for suicide rights is, I think, stronger than the case for antinatalism, but it was also the one I least felt needed the case made for it.

My principle objections to the actual content:

But my real objections are to the omissions. I felt there were a lot of unexamined assumptions, and the entire thing read like a cost-benefit analysis without the benefit analysis part. This is partly because Perry doesn’t agree that it’s valid to make a cost-benefit analysis here, but I think she’s manifestly wrong in that regard and hasn’t made more than a sketch of an argument as to why that position should be taken seriously.

I did find the book an interesting read, and there are a few important take homes from it for me - e.g. the section on suicide contagion has definitely weakened some of my beliefs in the actual mechanics and practicalities around suicide reporting, and the discussion around how you count the benefits to as yet non-existent people clarified some of my understanding of the debate - but ultimately I ended up if anything less sympathetic to the antinatalist position than I started out.

I’m unsure where this book will end up. On my shelves for now, and we’ll see if I want to revisit it. I might lend or give it to friends who are interested in the arguments, but I wouldn’t want to pass it on to strangers.