Where the Roots Reach for Water A Personal and Natural History of Melancholia

Jeffery Smith

North Point Press



Trade Paperback

304 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

Winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir

Jeffery Smith was living in Missoula, Montana, working as a psychiatric case manager when his own clinical depression began. Eventually, all his prescribed antidepressant medications proved ineffective. Unlike so many personal accounts, Where the Roots Reach for Water tells the story of what happened to Smith after he decided to give them up. Trying to learn how to make a life with his illness, Smith sets out to get at the essence of—using the old term for depression—melancholia.

Deftly woven into his own history is a "natural history" of this ancient illness. Drawing on centuries of art, writing, and medical treatises, Smith finds ancient links between melancholia and spirituality, love, sex, music, philosophy, gardening, and even our relationship with the earth's landscape.


Praise for Where the Roots Reach for Water

"More than a struggle about one man's struggle with his dark side: It's also a fascinating and highly idiosyncratic exploration of the illness, its history, and its place in the larger world."—Diane White, The Boston Globe

"Jeffrey Smith has written a gripping personal memoir of melancholia . . . He throws wonderful curve balls at his topic, using creative devices and poetic writing to get at the depth and range of depression."—Cynthia Crossen, The Wall Street Journal

"Like Annie Dillard's Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, [this book is] a compendium of one writer's reading and thinking on the subject . . . What makes it singular is the intellectual and moral seriousness with which [Smith] thinks and writes about this illness while in the grip of it . . . A searing account."—Greg Bottoms, Salon

"[A] view of melancholy [through] the eyes of an ecologist . . . Smith is driven to map the landscape of melancholy. He finds it stretched deep through history, literature, medicine, and myth . . . [This book] doesn't discount the value of modern medicine, but it does soundly challenge its inviolability . . . Engrossing and persuasive."—Joshua Wolf Shenk, Mirabella

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jeffery Smith

  • Jeffery Smith was born in West Virginia and was raised just across the the Ohio River in the Allegheny foothills. He now lives with his wife, Lisa Werner, in Coshocton County, Ohio, where he is working on a book about the traditional music of the Appalachians.