Category Archives: Book Reviews

Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913: Histories and Historiography

Philip Kuhn’s recently published book Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913: Histories and Historiography will be of interest to AHP readers. Kuhn’s account of the history of psychoanalysis in Britain looks at therich engagements with psychoanalysis in the country during Ernest Jones time abroad in Canada.A recent review of the book, by Fuhito Endo, in Medical History can be found here.

The book is described as follows:

Historians and biographers of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychology, medicine and culture, even Wikipedia, believe Ernest Jones discovered Freud in 1904 and had become the first English-speaking practitioner of psychoanalysis by 1906. Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913 offers radically different versions to that monolithic Account propagated by Jones over 70 years ago. Detailed readings of the contemporaneous literature expose the absurdities of Jones’s claim, arguing that he could not have been using psychoanalysis until after he exiled himself to Canada in September 1908. Removing Jones reveals vibrant British cultures of “Mind Healing” which serve as backdrops for widespread interest in Freud. First; the London Psychotherapeutic Society whose volunteer staff of mesmerists, magnetists, hypnotists and spiritualists offered free psycho-therapeutic treatments. Then the wondrous Walford Bodie, who wrought his free “miraculous cures,” on and off the music-hall stage, to adoring and hostile audiences alike. Then the competing religious and spiritual groups actively promoting their own faith healings, often in reaction to fears of Christian Science but often cow-towing to orthodox medical and clerical orthodoxies. From this strange milieu emerged medically qualified practitioners, like Edwin Ash, Betts Taplin, and Douglas Bryan, who embraced hypnotism and psychotherapy. From 1904 British Medical Journals began discussing Freud’s work and by 1908 psychiatrists, working in lunatic asylums, were already testing and applying his theories in the treatment of patients. The medically qualified psychotherapists, who formed the Medical Society for the Study of Suggestive Therapeutics, soon joined with medical members from the Society for Psychical Research in discussing, proselytizing, and practising psychoanalysis. Thus when Jones returned to London, in late summer 1913, there were thriving psychotherapeutic cultures with talk of Freud and psychoanalysis occupying medical journals and conferences. Psychoanalysis in Britain, 1893–1913, with its meticulous research, wide sweep of vision and detailed understanding of the subtle inter-connections between the orthodox and the unorthodox, the lay and the medical, the social and the biographical, as well as the byzantine complexities of British medical politics, will radically alter your understanding of how those early twentieth century “Mind Healing” debates helped shape the ways in which the ‘talking cure’ first started infiltrating our lives.

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Matthew Jones’ Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage

Matthew L. Jones’s Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage may interest AHP readers. As Lorraine Daston notes in her recent Critical Inquiry review of Jones’ book:

Woven like a scarlet thread through Jones’ account of the ingenuity, stamina, skill, and sheer will to believe required to keep at the improvement of calculating machines until they were reliable enough to be used widely (not until the 1870s) is the puzzle of what, if anything, mechanical calculation has to do with thinking. Pace almost all histories of computers that trace a lineage from Babbage to John von Neumann via Alan Turing, Jones answers: not much. Although some of the inspired tinkerers, such as Charles Stanhope, did toy with the idea that mechanical calculation was a materialization of thought, Jones concludes that the fact that machines could (eventually) be made to calculate did not immediately suggest the idea of artificial intelligence. On the contrary: calculation ceased thereby to count as intelligence.

The book itself is described on the publisher’s website as follows:

From Blaise Pascal in the 1600s to Charles Babbage in the first half of the nineteenth century, inventors struggled to create the first calculating machines. All failed—but that does not mean we cannot learn from the trail of ideas, correspondence, machines, and arguments they left behind.

In Reckoning with Matter, Matthew L. Jones draws on the remarkably extensive and well-preserved records of the quest to explore the concrete processes involved in imagining, elaborating, testing, and building calculating machines. He explores the writings of philosophers, engineers, and craftspeople, showing how they thought about technical novelty, their distinctive areas of expertise, and ways they could coordinate their efforts. In doing so, Jones argues that the conceptions of creativity and making they exhibited are often more incisive—and more honest—than those that dominate our current legal, political, and aesthetic culture.

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On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud

AHP readers may be interested in a new book exploring the history of the psychoanalytic couch. On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud by Nathan Kravis is now available from MIT Press. (The volume was also recently reviewed in the Los Angeles Review of Books.) As the publisher describes,

The peculiar arrangement of the psychoanalyst’s office for an analytic session seems inexplicable. The analyst sits in a chair out of sight while the patient lies on a couch facing away. It has been this way since Freud, although, as Nathan Kravis points out in On the Couch, this practice is grounded more in the cultural history of reclining posture than in empirical research. Kravis, himself a practicing psychoanalyst, shows that the tradition of recumbent speech wasn’t dreamed up by Freud but can be traced back to ancient Greece, where guests reclined on couches at the symposion (a gathering for upper-class males to discuss philosophy and drink wine), and to the Roman convivium (a banquet at which men and women reclined together). From bed to bench to settee to chaise-longue to sofa: Kravis tells how the couch became an icon of self-knowledge and self-reflection as well as a site for pleasure, privacy, transgression, and healing.

Kravis draws on sources that range from ancient funerary monuments to furniture history to early photography, as well as histories of medicine, fashion, and interior decoration, and he deploys an astonishing array of images—of paintings, monuments, sculpture, photographs, illustrations, New Yorker cartoons, and advertisements.

Kravis deftly shows that, despite the ambivalence of today’s psychoanalysts—some of whom regard it as “infantilizing”—the couch continues to be the emblem of a narrative of self-discovery. Recumbent speech represents the affirmation in the presence of another of having a mind of one’s own.

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New Book! Constructing Pain: Historical, Psychological and Critical Perspectives

Now available from Routledge is Robert Kugelmann’s Constructing Pain: Historical, Psychological and Critical Perspectives. As described on the publisher’s website,

Everyone experiences pain, whether it’s emotional or physical, chronic or acute. Pain is part of what it means to be human, and so an understanding of how we relate to it as individuals – as well as cultures and societies – is fundamental to who we are.

In this important new book, the first in Routledge’s new Critical Approaches to Health series, Robert Kugelmann provides an accessible and insightful overview of how the concept of pain has been understood historically, psychologically, and anthropologically. Charting changes in how, after the development of modern painkillers, pain became a problem that could be solved, the book articulates how the possibilities for living with pain have changed over the last two hundred years.

Incorporating research conducted by the author himself, the book provides both a holistic conception of pain and an understanding of what it means to people experiencing it today. Including critical reflections in each chapter, Constructing Pain offers a comprehensive and enlightening treatment of an important issue to us all and will be fascinating reading for students and researchers within health psychology, healthcare, and nursing.

The volume was recently reviewed as part of History of the Human Sciencesbook reviews initiative.

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Barbara Gittings, Gay Rights, and DSM Reform

Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and John E. Fryer in disguise as Dr. H. Anonymous. Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen

The Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health has just published a review of the recent book Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer. As Jack Drescher notes in his review Gittings, as part of a lifetime of LGBT activist efforts, pushed to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Drescher notes,

Gittings, at Lahusen’s suggestion, sought an openly gay psychiatrist to present at a 1972 APA symposium entitled “Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals? A Dialogue.” Along with Gittings and [Frank]  Kameny, the panel included a gay-friendly heterosexual analyst, Judd Marmor. As none of the gay psychiatrists she knew would appear openly gay in public—at the time, one could lose one’s medical license because homosexuality was illegal in almost every U.S. state—Barbara Gittings convinced John Fryer to appear in disguise as Dr. H. Anonymous.

Fryer, wearing an oversized tuxedo, a rubber Richard Nixon Halloween mask, and a fright wig, explained to his fellow psychiatrists the pain of the professional closet. [Kay Tobin] Lahusen’s photograph of the masked Dr. H Anonymous, now gone viral on the Internet, is a chilling, yet humorous, iconic moment in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement. Further, the panel and the hard work of Gittings, Lahusen, Kameny, and Fryer led to the APA’s removing “homosexuality” from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-II) the following year.

More on Gittings and Tracy Baim’s biography can be found here.

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New Book: The Friendship of Kahneman and Tversky

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman

A new book on the famous collaboration – and friendship – of psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman has just been released. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, is written by Michael Lewis whose previous book Moneyball was turned into a motion picture in 2011. Reviews have appeared in the New York Times and The New Yorker and an excerpt from Lewis’s book was recently featured in Vanity FairAs Lewis writes,

When they wrote their first papers, Danny and Amos had no particular audience in mind. Their readers would be the handful of academics who happened to subscribe to the highly specialized psychology trade journals in which they published. By 1972 they had spent the better part of three years uncovering the ways in which people judged and predicted—but the examples that they had used to illustrate their ideas were all drawn directly from psychology, or from the strange, artificial-seeming tests that they had given high-school and college students. Yet they were certain that their insights applied anywhere in the world that people were judging probabilities and making decisions. They sensed that they needed to find a broader audience.

The full Vanity Fair piece can be read here.

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NYT Review: ‘Labyrinths,’ Emma and Carl Jung’s Complex Marriage

The New York Times has reviewed a recent book exploring the marriage of Emma and Carl Jung: Labyrinths by Catrine Clay. In her review Jennifer Senior notes,

“Labyrinths” was well received when published in England this summer. Yet throughout the first half of the book, no matter how much I squinted, I could not discern why. The subject is rich, definitely, and Jungian analysis has a groovy, woo-woo sort of appeal. But Ms. Clay’s sourcing is thin. She devotes pages of filler to the glorious architecture of Middle Europe — sounding uncomfortably close to the sales pitch for a Viking River Cruise — and to the menu at the Jungs’ wedding, and to the wares of the Bahnhofstrasse, and to the costume of the day.

It all seems a clumsy attempt at trompe l’oeil, to give the illusion of depth. My l’oeil wasn’t tromped.
….
Perhaps most striking is how remarkably adaptable Emma was — and how familiar her predicament still feels. Any semi-sentient observer of American politics has a pretty good idea of what it’s like for a smart woman to bind her fortune to a charismatic man with a wandering eye, a fellow who creates a gravitational warp so pronounced that all objects go rolling in his direction.

And Emma, too, followed in her husband’s footsteps, which at the time made her a true pioneer. Eventually, at Carl’s urging, Emma underwent her own analysis. She became an analyst once their five children were grown. She lectured; she traveled with Carl to conferences; she wrote a book about the symbolism of the Holy Grail.

The full review can be read online here.

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Laura Stark’s Review of Patient H.M. in Science

As part of our continuing coverage of the controversy that has erupted over Luke Dittrich’s recently released Patient H.M., we bring to your attention a just released review of the book in Science. In her review, Laura Stark provides a welcome perspective on Dittrich’s work, especially in relation to his portrayal of Suzanne Corkin. As Stark writes,

It seems inevitable that the book will be compared to the patient biography The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. But, while Dittrich is an exceptional writer, he focuses his talents in the last half of his book on a takedown of rival author Suzanne Corkin, missing opportunities to turn his own family story into one of more universal scope….

Dittrich only reveals at the end that Corkin was writing her own book on H.M., which recasts his story up to that point in a new light. It helps make sense of his eagerness to see her actions as personal slights, character flaws, and bad science rather than symptoms of broken systems. It is a pity, because his sense of personal grievance narrows him into a story about a uniquely menacing scientist rather than a universal story of the legal and institutional ties that bind even well-intentioned people.

The review is out from behind Science‘s paywall and can be read in full here.

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Psychobook is Perfect for Your Coffee Table

A soon to be published book from Princeton Architectural Press may be just what every psychologist and historian of psychology has been waiting for to  adorn their coffee table. Psychobook is a lavishly  illustrated volume documenting the history of psychological testing.

As a recent piece in The New Yorker puts it,

“Psychobook” comprises an eclectic assortment of tests from the early twentieth century to the present, along with new artworks and whimsical questionnaires inspired by the originals. These materials are interlaced with vintage and contemporary photographs, portraits, collages, and film stills of psychologists analyzing patients or staring incisively into space, sometimes in idiosyncratically decorated Manhattan offices. It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.

Put it on your wish list now.

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Neuroskeptic Review: Patient H.M.

Neuroskeptic, part of Discover Magazine’s series of blogs, recently posted a review of a new book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. The book, written by Luke Dittrich who is himself the grandson of H.M.’s neurosurgeon, tells the story of the infamous case study of the patient now known to be Henry Molaison.

In the review Neuroskeptic focuses on three troubling aspects of H.M.’s story as discussed in the book. First, the psychosurgery performed on H.M. to address his epilepsy had no medical basis. Second, H.M.’s life was not nearly as sedate and content as it often portrayed and he threatened suicide at various points in time. Finally, the ethics of Suzanne Corkin’s longterm study of H.M. is thrown into doubt as, following the death of his parents, H.M. lacked a legal conservator to speak to his interests. This meant that H.M. himself provided consent for many of Corkin’s studies, though whether this can be understood as informed consent is doubtful. Moreover, the cousin eventually appointed conservator for H.M., it turns out, was not related to H.M. at all and simply provided blanket consent for Corkin’s tests of H.M.

Read Neuroskeptic’s full review online here.

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