FREUD by Frederick Crews
Kirkus Star


The Making of an Illusion
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A thorough debunking of the Freud legend by an accomplished author and academic.

In this elegant and relentless exposé, New York Review of Books contributor Crews (Emeritus, English/Univ. of California; Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays, 2006, etc.) wields his razor-sharp scalpel on Freud’s slavish followers, in particular, who did not want to see or who willfully redacted the sloppiness of Freud’s research methods in order to “idealize him.” The author sees a blackout of sorts by what he calls the Freudolatry, or the coterie of Freud apologists, from Anna Freud to many scholars down the line, who have limited access to his letters or correspondence between young Freud and his then-fiancee, Martha Bernays, between 1882 and 1886. This was the crucial period in the formation of his “seduction theory” and establishment as a specialist of nervous concerns among patients (largely well-off Jewish women) in Vienna. Having studied briefly with Jean-Martin Charcot of the Salpêtrière in Paris, Freud styled himself as an expert in hypnosis, Charcot’s specialty in the treatment of hysteria, a catchall term for women’s nervous disorders. In his Vienna practice, Freud’s advocacy of the use of cocaine and other drugs as a panacea would bring him notoriety and even disgrace—e.g., using cocaine to “cure” his friend Ernst Fleischl von Marxow of morphine addiction. Eventually, Freud became dependent on cocaine and self-administered it throughout these years of feverish writing and developing his early psychoanalytic theories. Crews carefully digs through Freud’s free-wheeling handling of facts, especially regarding the idea of “repressed memory of a sexual trauma”—e.g., the case of Bertha Pappenheim, aka Anna O. The author also reveals how many other theorists before Freud were exploring the role of the unconscious in psychoneuroses, which contradicts his self-depiction as a pioneer in the field, as well as how his editors tweaked the record. Crews comes to bury Freud, not to praise him, and he does so convincingly.

Impressively well-researched, powerfully written, and definitively damning.

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-62779-717-7
Page count: 768pp
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2017


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