"This revealing book is magnificently written and researched; it also reflects profound thinking about the origins of autism in medical, historical, and cultural terms."
"This book is sensational, although its author does not seek sensation. It is a careful work of history, connecting the career of a physician with the intellectual, medical, and political contexts of Austria in the 1930s and 1940s. That world is not our world, but the connections, the habits of mind, speech, diagnosis, are more powerful than we think. In restoring history to psychology, Sheffer helps us to understand why we classify our children the way we do, and helps us to ask, as we must, just what kind of world we are making for them."
"Meticulously documented, and chilling in its detail."
"This gripping book is a valuable contribution to the relatively neglected history of Austria in the Third Reich, and perhaps more important, to the inadequacies of medical diagnosis."
"Riveting and often devastating.… The question of complicity—a term much discussed lately, albeit for different reasons—is very much the subtext of Sheffer’s book. And it is her intelligent, measured exploration of its nuances that makes
Asperger’s Children transcend the specificity of its subject matter. She makes germane comparisons, too, between the Nazi culture of categorization and diagnosis and the one that has arisen around children since the nineties."
Globe and Mail - Emily Donaldson
"In what will now be considered the definitive study of Asperger and his relationship to the most nefarious aspects of Nazi eugenics, one of our most original historians has laid out the case against our idealizing of any physician without truly understanding their embeddedness in the complex scientific and political world of their time. An important, well-written and extremely timely book."
Asperger’s Children brings conceptual clarity and badly needed historical depth to a contemporary topic of ever-widening resonance and concern. [Edith Sheffer’s] careful and illuminating treatment deserves the fullest of public attention."
"A long-overdue and gripping analysis."
"Edith Sheffer has written a book that defies easy categorization—an appropriate, if perhaps inadvertent, response to her fascinating and terrible subject matter. In
Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna, she shows how the Third Reich’s obsession with categories and labels was inextricable from its murderousness; what at first seems to be a book about Dr. Hans Asperger and the children he treated ends up tracing the sprawling documentary record of a monstrous machine."
New York Times - Jennifer Szalai
Edith Sheffer has written a book that defies easy categorizationan appropriate, if perhaps inadvertent, response to her fascinating and terrible subject matter. In
Asperger's Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna, she shows how the Third Reich's obsession with categories and labels was inextricable from its murderousness; what at first seems to be a book about Dr. Hans Asperger and the children he treated ends up tracing the sprawling documentary record of a monstrous machine.
The New York Times - Jennifer Szalai
Historian Sheffer (Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain) examines the confounding legacy of Austrian psychiatrist Hans Asperger, who worked with autistic children during the 1930s and ’40s, unveiling a figure who initially offered benevolent support to some autistic children, but then death to others. In 1937, Asperger advocated a nonjudgmental approach toward children’s differences; a year later, following the Nazi annexation of Austria, he publicly recommended “the overhaul of medicine according to guiding principles of National Socialism”—with its emphases on group assimilation and physical perfection as determinants of whether people deserved to live or die—and introduced his concept of “autistic psychopathy,” which forms the basis of the present-day diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Asperger was likely involved in sending 44 children to the Vienna Municipal Youth Welfare Institution at Spiegelgrund, where at least 789 children died, inhumane neglect and brutal punishments were daily rituals, and euthanasia was considered a treatment. “Evil just a part of life” there, one survivor later wrote; “it was everyday life, and nobody questioned it.” At the end of the war, Asperger was cleared of wrongdoing and even described his war service as somewhat heroic; he continued an illustrious career in child psychiatry. This is a revelatory, haunting biography of a gifted practitioner who chose to fall in line with the Nazi regime and the far-reaching consequences of that choice, for his own patients and for those still using and being labeled with the diagnostic concepts he originated. (May)
"This superbly researched book is an important contribution to our understanding of attitudes to autism, and to our knowledge of one of the very darkest episodes in recent human history."
"[Sheffer] writes with extraordinary sensitivity and an understated grace. A historian of Germany and modern Europe, Sheffer’s research is meticulous and wide-ranging."
Los Angeles Times - Kate Tuttle
"As Sheffer suggests at the end of her searing, wonderfully written book, the least that can be done to honour the memory of those children killed in his name is to excise it from popular use."
The Sunday Times - Dominic Lawson
"An impassioned indictment, one that glows with the heat of a prosecution motivated by an ethical imperative...Sheffer dramatically incorporates the voices of the few children who survived the sadistic terrors of the psychiatric regime."
New York Review of Books - Lisa Appignanesi
"An absolutely terrifying and fascinating book."
The reputation of child psychiatrist Hans Asperger (1906-1980) comes under close scrutiny in this chilling and well-documented account of how the political and social values of Nazi psychiatry determined the fates of supposedly inferior children.Sheffer (Modern European History/Stanford Univ.; Burned Bridge: How East and West Germany Made the Iron Curtain, 2011) reveals how the Nazi regime categorized children and examines Asperger's role in its killing system. In its first conference in 1940 in Vienna, the German Society for Child Psychiatry and Curative Education established the doctrine of eugenicist selection and "the grandiose experiment of Nazi child psychiatry as a distinct field." Experts would differentiate between children who were valuable to society and who, in the words of Paul Schröder, "the Reich's ‘father' of child psychiatry," were "mostly worthless and ineducable." Asperger, present at the convention, endorsed this doctrine and became director of the Curative Education Clinic at the University of Vienna Hospital, where, as a medical consultant for the Nazi administration, he assessed children. On numerous occasions—likely hundreds of times—he recommended transfer to Spiegelgrund, the clinic in Vienna where "inferior" children were killed under the state's euthanasia program. Sheffer's research demonstrates how Asperger's diagnoses emerged from the values of the Nazi regime, and her account is filled with revealing notes from Asperger's clinic and disturbing stories of the experiences of children who survived Spiegelgrund. The author examines Asperger's writings and his career after the war, when he claimed that he was a resister of Nazism. She reports that he has been viewed in various ways: as "a resister who rescued children, as a determined perpetrator, or as a passive follower." Her own conclusion—that he was a conscious participant—is persuasive.A compelling picture of the evils of the Nazi regime and of the perversion of Nazi psychiatry.