WOODROW WILSON: A Medical and Psychological Portrait by Edwin A. Weinstein
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WOODROW WILSON: A Medical and Psychological Portrait

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As a supplement to the multi-volume Wilson Papers, there now appears this accurately-titled, judicious, yet sometimes deeply stirring work--a marked contrast to the irresponsible ""Freud""-Bullitt psychological portrait of WW published in 1967 (and much recent, reductive psychobiography). Dr. Weinstein is Professor of Neurology Emeritus, Mount Sinai Medical School, and a Fellow of the William Allanson White Institute of Psychoanalysis (both in New York); he is also the author of research studies with particular application to Wilson. Thus, biographers have regularly noted (they could hardly help but) that Wilson did not learn to read until he was twelve or so. Weinstein ascribes the difficulty to ""developmental dyslexia"" (as evidenced, most conclusively, by his ambidexterity after his first stroke--indicative of mixed cerebral dominance); points out positive corollaries (from habitual imaginative play, well into adolescence, Wilson acquired the stress-easing habit of symbolic projection); and remarks on the ramifications--later, for public policy--of his remaining a lifelong slow reader. Weinstein must also deal perforce with Wilson's too-devoted, too-selfless mother--who, he concludes, reinforced ""his resentments and competitiveness"" and made him dependent on ""the close companionship of women, particularly in stressful situations."" But Wilson's alleged over-dependence on his minister-father gets no support here. True, Wilson was heir to his father's stern Presbyterian morality and contempt for weakness; but (Weinstein convincingly shows) once his mother died--when Wilson was 31 and soon to return to his beloved Princeton to teach--he, not his ebbing father, was the dominant family member. All this (and more) is but prelude, however, to Weinstein's tour-de-force analysis of Wilson's subsequent problems as president of Princeton--which, projected onto the national scene as a fight against privilege, propelled him into the White House. To condense what is also a dramatic, absorbing story: Wilson, then a universally popular professor, suffered his first stroke in 1896; denied the seriousness of his condition, and became ""more energetic and purposive and . . . critical""; embarked, as college president (1902), on major reforms--at first prudently and diplomatically, then (after two more strokes) arbitrarily and contentiously; suffered a bitter, humiliating defeat; found solace with ""Dearest Friend"" Mrs. Peck--at the cost of excruciating guilt; and turned his second, potentially-ruinous defeat--brought on partly by his emotional crisis over Mrs. P.--into a vigorous ""new morality"" of public over private duty, or (in accord with the historical drift) of progressivism over conservatism. . . via his capacity for ""self-referencing"" symbolization. The ground is now laid for Wilson's gross denial, in 1919, of his massive stroke and his loss of the League of Nations fight--because of his investment in symbolic language (""the League was a living thing; hence any tampering would destroy its organic unity""), because of his self-deluding reduction of ""complex issues to all-or-none questions of right or wrong,"" because of his general inability to recognize how much he was controlled, now, by his impairment. For the totality of Wilson's career, readers will still have to turn (as Weinstein does) to Walworth and Link; but no one who wants to understand his personality or motivations can afford to ignore Weinstein's Findings.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press