Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst


Becoming Freud is the story of the young Freud—Freud up until the age of fifty—that incorporates all of Freud’s many misgivings about the art of biography. Freud invented a psychological treatment that involved the telling and revising of life stories, but he was himself skeptical of the writing of such stories. In this biography, Adam Phillips, whom the New Yorker calls “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytical writer,” emphasizes the largely and inevitably undocumented story of Freud’s earliest years as the ...
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Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst

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Becoming Freud is the story of the young Freud—Freud up until the age of fifty—that incorporates all of Freud’s many misgivings about the art of biography. Freud invented a psychological treatment that involved the telling and revising of life stories, but he was himself skeptical of the writing of such stories. In this biography, Adam Phillips, whom the New Yorker calls “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytical writer,” emphasizes the largely and inevitably undocumented story of Freud’s earliest years as the oldest—and favored—son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and suggests that the psychoanalysis Freud invented was, among many other things, a psychology of the immigrant—increasingly, of course, everybody’s status in the modern world.
Psychoanalysis was also Freud’s way of coming to terms with the fate of the Jews in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So as well as incorporating the writings of Freud and his contemporaries, Becoming Freud also uses the work of historians of the Jews in Europe in this significant period in their lives, a period of unprecedented political freedom and mounting persecution. Phillips concludes by speculating what psychoanalysis might have become if Freud had died in 1906, before the emergence of a psychoanalytic movement over which he had to preside.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Vivian Gornick
…lucid and imaginative…Adam Phillips is, I believe, one of the most engaging writers in the world on analysis and the analytic movement…"Perhaps" he actually muses, "all a biographer can do, from a psychoanalytic point of view, is to keep repeating himself by describing the recurring preoccupations that make a life. And allow, and allow for, a measure of incoherence." Phillips is indeed repetitious here—what he says at the beginning he says in the middle and says yet again at the end—but the result is far from incoherent. The repetitions provide texture; texture provides clarity; clarity appreciation. Phillips's own love of the beauty and power of psychoanalysis here serves both him and the reader wonderfully well.
The New York Times - Steven Marcus
…an intelligent and well-written book…It seems composed, implicitly, for advanced or graduate students and their like in the humanities. Many of them have read bits of Freud, many have learned about Freud through secondary texts, and many have become acquainted with him through Freud's recent French admirers. If they read Mr. Phillips's compact book, they will discover for themselves many useful correctives to current views.
Publishers Weekly
Renowned psychoanalyst Phillips (One Way and Another) conjures up a vibrant portrait of Sigmund Freud, examining psychiatry's most famous figure as it contends with the difficulties of placing his life in biographic form. In contrast to the more popular focus on an older Freud, Phillips introduces us to a younger version: the eldest son of Jewish immigrants, gifted but troubled by childhood trauma, whose future ideas were founded upon these aspects of his upbringing. And so the emergence of psychoanalysis comes at the end of this story, implying that the widely influential school of thought is merely one aspect of Freud's larger story. The book's brevity speaks, perhaps, to the ways in which Freud's life resists complete documentation; in fact, biography represents the very type of reshaped and repurposed story of the past that Freud so famously attributed to dreams. Phillips's perspective, then, becomes openly interpretive, taken not as historical fact but rather as exploratory speculation of the very blatant ambiguities surrounding Freud's life. Much like psychoanalysis itself, this book does not seek to claim and advance any singular sense of truth; instead, it encourages us to relish in the illuminations, indeed the very uncertainties of the process. As such, it's a biography that might even have received the approval of Freud himself. (June)
Financial Times - Talitha Stevenson

Becoming Freud offers more than enough proof that Phillips is the ideal author of a book about Freud.’—Talitha Stevenson, Financial Times
The Daily Telegraph - Salley Vickers

‘The book’s structure is bound by two constraints: the brevity of the period covered – the first 50 years of Freud’s life (he lived until he was 83) - and his Jewishness. But, as with Shakespeare working within the strictures of the sonnet form, Phillips presses these potential limits to acute and dazzling effect.’—Salley Vickers, The Daily Telegraph
The Sunday Times - Ian Critchley

‘[T]his short, meditative succeeds superbly in delineating the culture and thought processes that lay behind his work.’—Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times
New Yorker Blog - Joshua Rothman
"An audacious book. . . . Its implicit goal, never stated but always clear, is to help us salvage the best parts of Freud’s work while leaving behind the rest—the outmoded theories and unwieldy jargon that make Freud a caricature rather than an intriguing thinker."—Joshua Rothman, New Yorker Blog
San Francisco Chronicle - Kenneth Baker

"Phillips excels at re-describing concepts and experiences whose meanings appear settled, stale or too technical."—Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
New York Times - Steven Marcus

"As a writer, Mr. Phillips specializes in paradoxes and antitheses — almost all of which he puts forth thoughtfully and gracefully . . . An intelligent and well-written book."—Steven Marcus, New York Times
The Irish Times - Helen Meany

‘More a biographical essay than a comprehensive biography, since it ends with Freud aged 50, this beautifully lucid book is jargon-free and richly informative, which is hardly surprising since Phillips was the series editor of The New Penguin Freud.’—Helen Meany, Irish Times
New York Times Book Review - Vivian Gornick

"Adam Phillips is, I believe, one of the most engaging writers in the world on analysis and the analytic movement . . . Phillips’s own love of the beauty and power of psychoanalysis here serves both him and the reader wonderfully well."—Vivian Gornick, New York Times Book Review
Robert Pinsky

"Telling a great story gracefully and with the clarity it deserves, in all its layers, Adam Phillips demonstrates that Freud remains central to the urgent questions of modernism— social, political and cultural, as well as psychological. I will be thinking about specific sentences in this book for a long time."—Robert Pinsky
Library Journal
British psychoanalyst Phillips (former principal child psychotherapist, London's Charing Cross Hosp.; former general editor of the new "Penguin Modern Classics" series translations of Sigmund Freud; One Way and Another) examines the first 50 years of Sigmund Freud's life (1856–1939). The author digs deeply into his subject's massive writings, major biographies of him, and other research to reveal insights into how he began the development of psychoanalysis, the impact the plight of Jewish people (especially during World War II) had on his work and life, and his analysis and interpretation of dreams. Phillips's masterly, succinct scholarship examines how Freud's work continues to influence the practice of psychoanalysis. While the material is academic, even lay readers can use it to gain a better appreciation of the discipline. They will also come to realize how Freud's pioneering research has formed the basis for understanding what people do without realizing what they are doing, the link between transgression and knowledge, the inventiveness of conscious and unconscious communication, and, of course, the interpretation of dreams. VERDICT This solid title presents a highly erudite account of the early life of Freud that nicely supplements other works, such as Peter Gay's Freud: A Life for Our Time, Ernest Jones's The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, and Louis Breger's Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision. Phillips's complex investigation is most relevant for graduate-level curricula in psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis.—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
Kirkus Reviews
A psychoanalyst and translator of Freud summarizes the connections between Freud's life and his creation of psychoanalysis.In this latest installment of Yale's Jewish Lives series, Phillips (One Way and Another: Selected Essays, 2013, etc.) doesn't offer a full biography of Freud but focuses on the "great five books" he wrote around the turn of the 20th century (among them, The Interpretation of Dreams and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life), the works that both established Freud as a significant intellectual presence in Western thought and also laid the foundation for psychoanalysis. But Phillips, not neglecting the facts of Freud's life, sketches his family background, boyhood (he was a voracious reader), gifts as a student, decision to segue from medical practice to this thing that didn't really yet have a name—the focus on hysteria (principally in women). We learn about his marriage, his children, his professional friendships that usually dissolved later on, his astonishing productivity, his disdain for biography (Phillips is fully aware of this particular irony), his flight from Nazi-dominated Europe and his death in London. The author also discusses how Freud, though not a practicing Jew, nonetheless had to live in a world that did not care: He was a Jew, period, and this had grave consequences for his professional life and, later, for his safety. (Some relatives who stayed behind died in the Holocaust.) Phillips tells the stories of the professors and physicians who influenced him and notes that Freud grappled with ideas most complex and even contradictory—"we are helplessly desiring creatures," writes the author, with "an instinct for death." Some readers accustomed to today's breezier literary styles may wonder why Phillips favors so many page-length paragraphs.A clear and engaging—though sometimes tendentious—summary of some key moments in an intellectual life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300158663
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 5/27/2014
  • Series: Jewish Lives Series
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 212,160
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Phillips is former Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital, London, and is now a psychoanalyst in private practice. He is a visiting professor in the English department at the University of York and was the general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics translations of Sigmund Freud. His most recent book is One Way and Another: New and Selected Essays. 

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Interviews & Essays

Praise for Adam Phillips
“Adam Phillips is one of the richest and most rewarding essayists of our time." —Los Angeles Times
“Phillips has made psychoanalytic thought livelier and more poetic than ever.”­­—New York Times
“The curious thing about reading Phillips is that he makes you feel smart and above the daily grind at the same time as he reassures you that you are not alone in your primal anxieties about whether you are lovable or nuts or, perhaps, merely boring.” —New York Times Magazine
“Adam Phillips writes with far-sighted equanimity. . . . He’s a little like an Oliver Sacks of psychoanalysis, both affable and unalarmed.” —Boston Sunday Globe
“[Phillips is] one of the finest prose stylists at work in the language, an Emerson of our time.” —John Banville
"Phillips’s authority as a writer comes in no small part from his own experience as a highly regarded therapist." —Boston Globe
"[Phillips is] adept at making the complex comprehensible.”—Independent
“In Phillips’ hands, nothing is as ordinary as it appears to be. Each essay is a kind of mystery tour; you never know where you are going to end up.”—Times Literary Supplement
“[Phillips has] punched lovely skylights into the gloomy Freudian edifice and in general done much to rehabilitate the psychoanalytic enterprise by honoring the idiosyncrasy of human experience and by wielding method lightly, playfully, humanely.”—Esquire
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