Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days

Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days

by Mark Edmundson

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"The Death of Sigmund Freud offers a compelling redescription of why the founder of psychoanalysis retains his relevance today…a stirring account of Freud's final months in Vienna…This is the disruptive legacy of Freud's last year, and Edmundson has found the words to bring it alive today."—Los Angeles Times

When Hitler

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"The Death of Sigmund Freud offers a compelling redescription of why the founder of psychoanalysis retains his relevance today…a stirring account of Freud's final months in Vienna…This is the disruptive legacy of Freud's last year, and Edmundson has found the words to bring it alive today."—Los Angeles Times

When Hitler invaded Austria in March of 1938, Sigmund Freud was among the 175,000 Viennese Jews dreading Nazi occupation. Though Freud was near the end of his life—eighty-one years old, battling cancer of the jaw—and Hitler's rise on the world stage was just beginning, the fates of these two historical giants were nonetheless intertwined. In this gripping and revelatory historical narrative, Mark Edmundson traces Hitler and Freud's oddly converging lives, then zeroes in on Freud's escape to London, where he published his last and most provocative book, Moses and Monotheism.

By taking a close look at Freud's last years—years that coincided with the onset of the Second World War—Edmundson probes Freud's prescient ideas about the human proclivity to embrace fascism in politics and fundamentalism in religion. At a time when these forces are once again shaping world events, The Death of Sigmund Freud suggests new and vital ways to view Freud's legacy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In so rivetingly tying Freud's investigation of the subconscious with the Nazis' unleashing of the destructive powers of the id, Edmundson gives us the tools for looking at our own cultural icons…In this and his other books, Edmundson provides a great teaching guide to seeing the world afresh.” —Boston Globe

“Superb…Without elevating [Freud] to the status of a secular godhead--indeed, by underlining his limitations--Mr. Edmundson presents us with a figure who still has the power to rouse us from our complacency, whose stern, exacting eyes continue to remind us what we are apt to forget: that we must work to change our lives.” —New York Sun

“Brilliantly buttressed plea for reconsideration of Freud as philosopher and shrink.” —Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Expanding on his 2006 New York Times Magazine article, "Freud and the Fundamentalist Urge," Edmundson develops his thesis about the lure of powerful, authoritarian leaders. He begins in 1938 Vienna on the eve of Hitler's invasion and ends less than two years later, when Freud died in London. The crux of the book comes at its very end, where Edmundson, a contributing editor at Harper's, discusses Moses and Monotheism (published in 1939), arguing for Freud's profound insights into the rise of a totalitarian, paternalistic leader like Hitler. In fact, Edmundson's aim seems even grander: to revive Freud's legacy as a sage of human nature in an intellectual climate that has moved beyond many of his ideas. But the earlier parts of the volume are thin. Edmundson adds nothing in recounting the details of Freud's life, and those facts are repeated over and over. There are some moments of sharp insight when Edmundson veers away from the biographical and delves into his own critical ideas, but these would have been better served in an article rather than incorporated into a narrative of danger, escape, illness and death. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

Teacher and writer Edmundson (English, Univ. of Virginia; Why Read?) focuses on Freud and Hitler in this patchwork psychoanalytic history of the 1930s. Mingling the stories of these men is a stretch since Freud said so little about the German dictator even after leaving Vienna in 1938 as a refugee. Yet Edmundson applies Freud's notion of a universal need for authoritarian father figures as an explanation of Nazism and explores Freud's militant atheism as a protest against that irrational yearning, especially in Moses and Monotheism. The author relies on Ernest Jones and Peter Gay for Freud's biography, accepting as fact matters of such controversy as his fidelity and midlife celibacy and his disinterest in the Nobel Prize. This portrait of a pessimistic, ambivalent, courageous, rigid, rarely vulnerable man in the context of Moses is valuable though somewhat speculative. Recommended for psychology and history collections that should also have Louis Breger's well-balanced Sigmund Freud.
—E. James Lieberman

Kirkus Reviews
The final shaping of the Promethean psychoanalyst's work amid the opening clashes of war and forebodings of holocaust. Previously acclaimed for his literary and cultural criticism, Edmundson (English/Univ. of Virginia; Why Read?, 2004, etc.) uses Hitler's forced annexation of Austria in March 1938 as a matrix for assembling and framing the thought of Vienna resident Freud. The "action" part of the story is minimal. Ailing, 82-year-old Freud confronted and held off local Nazis attempting to loot his home along with those of other Jews as the Anschluss unfolded. A few months later, he decided to escape with his extended family, got on the Orient Express and, after a Channel ferry trip, got off a train at Victoria Station and moved to his new home in a quiet section of London. Edmundson stresses the areas of Freud's work that pertain to sources of human conflict, both personal and collective. Nothing could be more hideously apt in the age of fascism than the analyst's theory regarding humankind's infantile and, he believed, eternal psychological yearning for authority figures. "Freud pointed to the twofold horror of . . . the Patriarchal Complex, tyrannical governments and tyrannical religions," Edmundson writes, "and began to explain why they will probably be with us forever." Hitler himself was the perfect foil for this intellectual exercise, someone who despised the Viennese Jew while unwittingly confirming his tenets in both word and deed; Freud found the Fuhrer not a monstrous anomaly but totally predictable. Assisted by morphine doses administered by a doctor who promised to help when the pain from his cancer became intolerable, Freud died on September 23, 1939. His lessons live on,Edmundson avers: "When religious fundamentalism crosses national borders and aligns itself with authoritarian politics, nations that aspire to democracy must deal with an enormous threat."Brilliantly buttressed plea for reconsideration of Freud as philosopher and shrink. Agent: Chris Calhoun/Sterling Lord Literistic
author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Botany o Michael Pollan
By tracing the intersecting stories of Sigmund Freud and Adolph Hitler in the days before World War II, Mark Edmundson sheds a fresh light on one of the most pressing questions of our day: the allure of fundamentalist politics and the threat it poses to the values of civilization. The Death of Sigmund Freud is a bracing, brilliant, and urgent book.

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Bloomsbury USA
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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Mark Edmundson teaches at the University of Virginia, where he is University Professor. A prizewinning scholar, he has published a number of works of literary and cultural criticism, including Why Read?, Literature Against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida; and Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference. He has also written for such publications as the New Republic, the New York Times Magazine, the Nation, and Harper's, where he is a contributing editor.

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