The brilliantly comprehensive study of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s (1900–1980) many “lives” as a clinician, philosopher, social critic and political activist.
In this highly readable biography, Friedman (Harvard University’s Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative) argues that Fromm's early life shaped his thinking on his signature concept of social character. The future psychoanalyst grew up in a dysfunctional household in Frankfurt, Germany, but he was also surrounded by Jewish religious and ethical traditions that helped him break free of his "stifling family" and see that "there was a world out there with pressing contemporary issues that required bold solutions.” As Fromm developed intellectually, he became committed to the idea of using Freudian psychoanalysis to help individuals find their way toward happier, more productive lives. In so doing, he could fulfill the vision of social justice he had glimpsed in his studies of the Talmud. But he differed from orthodox Freudians in that he believed that human behavior was not only shaped by libidinal drives, but also "social structure and culture.” For most of his life, he would attempt to integrate Marxist thought into his own psychoanalytic theories, which came under intense fire. Other Frankfurt School luminaries, such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, questioned Fromm's critique of Freud's libidinal theory, and Fromm broke away from the psychoanalytic establishment and went to Mexico, where he presided over the Mexican Institute of Psychoanalysis. During this time, he became a highly influential peace/anti-nuclear activist. He maintained contact with key policymakers in the Kennedy administration and argued for a "Third Way" movement that would negotiate a sane and healthy humanist path between the sick, bipolar alternatives of "Soviet military hegemony" and "American corporate capitalism.”
Academic biography at its best.