Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days

Overview

A dramatic revisiting of Freud's escape from Nazi-occupied Vienna, his final days on earth, and his most controversial work--Moses and Monotheism.

When Hitler invaded Vienna in March of 1938, Sigmund Freud, old and desperately ill, was among the city's 175,000 Jews dreading Nazi occupation. The Nazis hated Sigmund Freud with a particular vehemence: they detested his "soul-destroying glorification of the instinctual life." Here Mark Edmundson traces Hitler and Freud's oddly ...

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The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days

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Overview

A dramatic revisiting of Freud's escape from Nazi-occupied Vienna, his final days on earth, and his most controversial work--Moses and Monotheism.

When Hitler invaded Vienna in March of 1938, Sigmund Freud, old and desperately ill, was among the city's 175,000 Jews dreading Nazi occupation. The Nazis hated Sigmund Freud with a particular vehemence: they detested his "soul-destroying glorification of the instinctual life." Here Mark Edmundson traces Hitler and Freud's oddly converging lives, then zeroes in on Freud's last two years, during which, with the help of Marie Bonaparte, he was at last rescued from Vienna and brought safely to London. There he was honored as he never had been during his long, controversial life. At the same time he endured the last of more than thirty operations for cancer of the jaw. Confronting certain death, Freud, in typical fashion, did not let fame make him complacent, but instead wrote his most provocative book, Moses and Monotheism, in which he questioned the legacy of the greatest Jewish leader. Focusing on Freud's last two years, Edmundson is able to probe Freud's ideas about death, and also about the human proclivity to embrace fascism in politics and fundamentalism in religion. Edmundson suggests new and important ways to view Freud's legacy, at a time when these forces are once again shaping world events.

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Editorial 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.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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
From the Publisher

“In this and his other books, Edmundson provides a great teaching guide to seeing the world afresh. Medford High's Frank Lears would be proud.”Boston Globe
 

"...Mr. Edmundson proves himself a deft and genial explicator...a superb mediation on two kinds of authority, and in its sober, qualified reverence for Freud Mr. Edmundson provides an example of the kind of relationship to greatness that he is advocating. 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 that we are apt to forget: that we must work to change our lives."NY Sun

The Death of Sigmund Freud is a thoroughly engaging, solidly informed, and beautifully written book…His [Edmundson’s] writing is so good and so totally free of off-putting professional jargon that it draws the reader irresistibly into Edmundson’s portrayal of Freud’s last 2 years….Easy reading and a wonderful introduction…Those already familiar with Freud’s writings can still learn much from this fine book.”Journal of American Medicine

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

 

"The Death of Sigmund Freud offers a compelling redescription of why the founder of psychoanalysis retains his relevance today...an engaging read...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
 
“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.”—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Botany of Desire
 
The Death of Sigmund Freud is a story about just how confused we are by our craving for authority. In Edmundson's riveting book Freud becomes at once more remarkable as a writer, and more ordinary as a person, a figure to be reckoned with rather than to revere. There has not been a better book on why Freud might matter now -- and on why culture-heroes matter at all -- for a very long time.”—Adam Phillips, author of Side-Effects

 
"This book, readable and thrilling, should, I need hardly add, be read."--The Times (UK)

"Edmundson probes Freud's ideas about secular death, and also about the rise of fascism and fundamentalism, and finally grapples with the demise of psychoanalysis after Freud's death, when religious fundamentalism is once again shaping world events. "--Play.com (UK)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596914308
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 9/16/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Edmundson is a professor of English at the University of Virginia. A prizewinning scholar, he has published a number of works of literary and cultural criticism, including Literature Against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida, Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference, and Why Read?; he wrote the introduction to Beyond the Pleasure Principle in Adam Phillips's celebrated reissue of Freud's work. 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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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2008

    excellant literary criticism

    I received this book as a gift and thought it odd, perhaps morose. What I discovered was a fascinating account that read more like a literary criticism than a history. Rather than give great historical detail, the author selects specific events that illustrate Freud's times and his place in those times. Parallels are examined among Freud's personal struggles, the upheaval of those times, and the evolving psychoanalytic thought of Freud. The place of Freud's work in early twentieth century though is also probed. Altogether, I found this a very stimulating, thought provoking book. I think this would be of interest to historians, psychotherapists interested in the evolution of therapeutic thought (I'm a practicing psychiatrist though not an analyst), philosophers and the general reader.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2007

    A reviewer

    The Death of Sigmund Freud is a perfect companion book to the bigger Freud biographies ... a critical addition to the Freud section of your personal library on this fascinating man, doctor, thinker. The author begins the narrative just before Freud fled Vienna for England ... and it ends with Freud's pitiful death. The comparative exploration of the life of Hitler and Freud as Europe began to change is interesting and well constructed, but the real fascination is found in the details of Freud's working and personal life. I think the real punch in a biography is felt at the point in the book where you feel the subject's been fleshed out ... really captured by the author ... and Freud is now more real and understood in my mind than ever before. He¿s a mythic personality now. He was back in his day. Edmundson has rendered Freud¿s human, day-to-day life beautifully ¿ and what Freud professionally and personally believed, whether it¿s believable to us or not. ........Todd Sentell is the author of the searing social satire, TOONAMINT OF CHAMPIONS

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