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Book description

The life and work of Sigmund Freud continue to fascinate general and professional readers alike. Joel Whitebook here presents the first major biography of Freud since the last century, taking into account recent developments in psychoanalytic theory and practice, gender studies, philosophy, cultural theory, and more. Offering a radically new portrait of the creator of psychoanalysis, this book explores the man in all his complexity alongside an interpretation of his theories that cuts through the stereotypes that surround him. The development of Freud's thinking is addressed not only in the context of his personal life, but also in that of society and culture at large, while the impact of his thinking on subsequent issues of psychoanalysis, philosophy, and social theory is fully examined. Whitebook demonstrates that declarations of Freud's obsolescence are premature, and, with his clear and engaging style, brings this vivid figure to life in compelling and readable fashion.


'This is a brilliant book that combines psychoanalytic thinking and intellectual history to demonstrate that Freud remains central to current debates not only in psychoanalysis, but also in cultural theory, philosophy and gender studies. With his expertise in psychoanalytic theory, Joel Whitebook elucidates the development of Freud’s thinking and presents a radically new way of reading him. He appropriates insights from feminism, pre-Oedipal theory, and clinical experience with non-neurotic patients to transform our picture of the founder of the field. When one focuses on early development, the maternal presence and the repudiation of femininity, Freud no longer appears as another dead white male, but as a vital thinker whose ideas have important consequences for the contemporary world.'

Christine Anzieu-Premmereur - Director of the Columbia University Psychoanalytic Center’s Parent-Infant Program, and member of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and of the Société Psychanalytique de Paris.

'Whitebook has written a distinctive kind of intellectual biography, with a rich and complex agenda, which is far from reproducing those already available. He offers a perspective on Freud that incorporates new developments in psychoanalytic thinking and integrates psychoanalysis with broader philosophical trajectories. The result is outstanding: a biography with intellectual force that captivates its reader.'

Sebastian Gardner - University College London

'Despite all attempts to bury him, Freud remains the ultimate revenant, haunting the twenty-first century at a time when all the best efforts to outgrow our self-incurred immaturity have come to naught. Drawing on his sustained experience as a practicing psychoanalyst and deep immersion in contemporary theory, Joel Whitebook shows how relevant many of Freud’s ideas remain. By linking critical elements of Freud's thought with crucial aspects of his life - his vexed relationship with his mother, troubled friendships with Fliess and Jung, ambivalent response to war, and ruminations on mortality - he offers a fresh and insightful reading, neither excessively pious nor reductively dismissive, of a thinker we are only beginning to understand and from whom much is still to be learned.'

Martin Jay - Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley

'With the clinical acumen of an analyst and the intellectual rigor of a philosopher, Joel Whitebook gives us a Freud for our disenchanted but perhaps a bit wiser times. Never minimizing the greatness of the thinker or the magnitude of his achievement, Whitebook makes extensive and judicious use of the recent scholarly critiques of the man and his work, as well as of the expanded scope of psychoanalysis that has deepened, augmented, and where necessary corrected Freud’s own inaugural discoveries and formulations, pursuing his inquiry with Freud’s own ideal of the relentless pursuit of the truth. In the resulting brilliant study of the intertwining of the life and the work, we recognize a very human Freud with outsized gifts and equally outsized flaws and limitations, neither idealized nor condemned for his very real but comprehensible weaknesses and blind spots, but understood in the light of analytic neutrality in the best sense.'

Robert Paul - Charles Howard Candler Professor of Anthropology and Interdisciplinary Studies, Emory University, Atlanta

'The distinguished psychoanalytic scholar and analyst Joel Whitebook’s lively new intellectual biography of Freud gives us a strikingly plausible view of its subject. With special attention to Freud’s tangled family circumstances in childhood, Whitebook evokes a figure of the 'dark enlightenment,' committed to the ideal of scientific inquiry yet fully aware of the irrationalities, even the pre-oedipal ones, to which the enquiring mind is subject. Whitebook reads this attitude in relation to Freud’s personal and professional 'break with tradition.' He also engages with the feminist critique of Freud by pursuing the theme of 'the missing mother,' the absence of women as protagonists in any of Freud’s key dramas being, in his view, a submerged but haunting presence occasioned by the disappearance or 'psychological death' of his earliest caregivers. This book is well worth promoting to the top of the queue on anyone’s Freud reading list.'

Paul Fry - William Lampson Professor of English, Yale University

'Joel Whitebook presents to us an extraordinary new biography of Freud. In contrast to the classical biographies he is in a position to use our current psychoanalytic knowledge on the early development of the child and the early mother-child relationship to show the development of Freud’s personality and his theoretical work in a new light. The missing of the maternal dimension in the unfolding of his ideas was one of the most important consequences of Freud’s early traumatic experiences for his thinking. With his profound psychoanalytic and philosophical knowledge, great empathy and integrative strength Whitebook brilliantly describes the central motifs, the creative ways and also the wrong tracks in the development of Freud’s theoretical thinking, confronting it with critical issues in contemporary psychoanalysis and philosophy … His book is a masterpiece.'

Werner Bohleber - author of Destructiveness, Intersubjectivity, and Trauma: The Identity Crisis of Modern Psychoanalysis and editor of Psyche

'Whitebook is fascinating on the historical theme of 'the break with tradition' both in 19th century intellectual life and in Jewish history.'

Jane O'Grady Source: Daily Telegraph

'An elegant foray into the man and his mind … rich and illuminating.'

Lisa Appignanesi Source: The Guardian

'At almost 500 pages and supported with extensive footnotes, the book is a treasure trove for readers who want to better understand one of the most significant and prolific minds of the last 150 years.'

Mike Phelps Source: Simply Charly (

'… it should be mandatory reading for graduate students in the field of psychiatry.'

C. D. Quyn Source: San Francisco Book Review (

'… strongly argued, well-informed … a sensitive account.'

Stephen Frosh Source: Jewish Chronicle

'The book is a readable, enjoyable and well-documented biography of Freud that summarizes current scholarship, and makes good use of recently published archival materials.'

Source: Metapsychology

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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