New Review of Makari’s History of Psychoanalysis

Love him or hate him, Sigmund Freud never seems to be far from the mind of historians of psychotherapy. The long, deep shadow cast across the decades by the Viennese doctor and his work is equaled only by the incredible size of the secondary literature. (A book search of “sigmund freud” at results in a list of more than 30,000 titles!)

Now adding to that gigantic pool of literature is a new book by George Makari, Director of Cornell University’s Institute for the History of Psychiatry, entitled Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis (Harper, 2008). In January we noted the New York Times review of this book. Now it has been reviewed in The Australian by Natasha Mitchell, host of ABC Radio National’s “All in the Mind” [podcast]. She writes:

With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to dismiss the empirical woolliness of Freud and his followers as bunkum. All those lost hours on the couch unearthing the repressed sexual origins of our neurotic selves, waging Oedipal struggles, and disentangling the super-ego, ego and id. Hogwash?

But, as Makari describes, at the heart of the psychoanalytic enterprise was an ambitious desire to develop an objective science of the psyche and to take our sophisticated experience of an inner life seriously….

A foundation stone for much of Freud’s thinking, his libido theory, was to become his most contentious. Sex always is. But the idea that all our mental difficulties were caused by repressed sexual frustrations and perversities — and that “libido was the source of the mind’s energy” — appealed to the agenda of sexual reformists in Vienna, anxious to release their society from its prudishness….

Empires were built and destroyed, secret committees convened, and allegiances forged and shattered as the psychoanalytic movement pushed beyond Vienna to Zurich, Berlin, London, Hungary and the US. Makari has documented this all in exhaustive detail…. This is a sometimes dispassionate but sympathetic book…

The publisher’s webpage for the book can be found here.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

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