THE CREATION OF DR. B by Richard Pollak

THE CREATION OF DR. B

A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A thorough demolition of the reputation of Bruno Bettelheim, who is depicted here as tyrannical, arrogant, cruel, and above all a consummate liar. Unlike Nina Sutton, who approached the subject of her recent sympathetic psychobiography (Bettelheim, p. 589) as a noble old gentlemen, Pollak initially regarded him as ``the evil Doctor Sivana, arch-nemesis of Captain Marvel.'' A former executive editor of the Nation, Pollak first met Bettelheim in 1969 when he sought to learn more about his brother, who had attended the self-styled psychotherapist's Orthogenic School, a residential treatment center for disturbed children. The negative impression that Bettelheim made in this decidedly unfelicitous meeting was not greatly altered by Pollak's research. He examines several areas of Bettelheim's life especially closely. He questions the veracity of Bettelheim's published accounts of his concentration camp experience, upon which he built a reputation as an international authority not only on the camps but on the Holocaust itself. And after interviewing former residents and counselors at the Orthogenic School and examining Bettelheim's writings, Pollak concludes that his subject created a climate of fear there through his use of ``Nazi-Socratic methods'' and that his claims of success in treating disturbed children are largely unsubstantiated. Pollak is especially critical of his work on autism, which Bettelheim mistakenly attributed to bad mothering and for which he claimed remarkable but unproven treatment success. As for Bettelheim's well-known work on child- rearing on the Israeli kibbutz, Pollak characterizes it as ``a sea of prose that, like most of the author's previous works, lacks any systematic source notes, producing a vague scholarship blurred further by the dense fog of anonymity that envelops the book.'' Further, Pollak asserts that Bettelheim plagiarized parts of The Uses of Enchantment, his 1976 study of the psychological meaning of fairy tales, and he backs up this claim with convincing quotes. While hard on Bettelheim, Pollak is equally hard on the lay press for what he sees as its gullibility in accepting Bettelheim's self-created image. Strong, well-documented charges that are certain to stir rebuttals.

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-80938-9
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996