Writing in 1922 to Sigmund Freud, the disgruntled husband of a woman undergoing psychoanalysis challenged the famous psychologist: 'Great Doctor, are you a savant or a charlatan?' In this devastating exposé, Crews answers that question with stunning clarity ... Crews relentlessly shreds the deceptions that Freudians even now try to maintain. Trumpeted as a daring breakthrough, Freudianism incorporated concepts the Viennese physician borrowed from mentors he idolized, then betrayed. Framed as the distillation of lessons learned through successful treatments of many patients, Freud’s psychoanalytic method, Crews argues forcefully, emerged with a thin—and mendaciously edited—case history. Disguised as objective truth, Freudianism bore the marks of its creator’s deep-seated insecurities—and guilt. This thorough dismantling of one of modernity’s founding figures is sure to be met with controversy.
Crews doesn’t spend much time on legacy, except to suggest that Freud’s distraction from real scientific and therapeutic work set psychology and neuroscience back by decades ... The book can be rough going in some places, through no fault of the dedicated author. Rather the source material eschews penetrability and plausibility; Freud’s accounts became so tangled over the years as he avoided admitting error that I fear there’s no untangling them. Even so, Freud is a surprisingly fun read, as Crews gets in plenty of sharp jabs. He seems to find the most damning way to spin any admission or incident, leaving one to wonder about his own interpretive filters. Still, given the facts presented, it’s hard to imagine additional disclosures that would completely reverse the overall impression.
Crews marshals his evidence like a prosecutor, and he has a lot of it to work with — not only as a result of his own brilliant investigations but also because of the growing and impressive literature of Freudphobians, several of whom have blurbed his book. Crews is adept at finding a Freud condemning himself in his own words ... As arrogant as Sherlock Holmes, Freud dazzled his readers with clues of his own invention, which he then deciphered with aplomb. But here is where Crews the sleuth goes awry. All too often in his account, armed, he believes, with incontrovertible evidence of Freud’s duplicity, Crews tells us what Freud 'must have' thought or felt. Beware the biographer who presumes but cannot prove ... What is also missing in this biography is the quotidian Freud, what he was like to live with, how he interacted with his friends, what life was like after he left Nazi-dominated Europe, and even Freud’s own views about biography and his practice of the genre. Instead, we get case after case of Freud’s appalling treatment of patients and colleagues. Unfortunately, the whole man himself is not there. He is presented as a sensibility but not as person. As biography, Crews’ book falls short, no matter how powerful you find his dressing-down of the master.
... Here we have Freud the liar, cheat, incestuous child molester, woman hater, money-worshiper, chronic plagiarizer and all-around nasty nut job. This Freud doesn’t really develop, he just builds a rap sheet ... Crews’s exceptional fluency in the source material allows him to integrate complex incidents into an impressively cohesive narrative. The usefulness of the aggregation would have been greater had Crews presented his story with more of that objectivity he finds so damningly absent in Freud ... Crews is so invested in denying Freud primacy for any of the ideas associated with psychoanalysis that have retained a jot of credibility, and offers such a paucity of larger sociohistorical context for a study of this scale, that in reading his account it is easy to imagine humanity’s understanding of sexuality and psychology as such was advancing quite admirably until Freud came along and thrust us all into the lurid dungeon of his own ugly obsessions ... The wholesale denigration of its founder is what we might expect in response to a personal betrayal of the highest order, such as only an idol can deliver. Paraphrasing Voltaire, if Freud didn’t exist, Frederick Crews would have had to invent him. In showing us a relentlessly self-interested and interminably mistaken Freud, it might be said he’s done just that.
Mr. Crews aims not just to debunk Freud, but to defame him, to banish him from serious consideration forever … Mr. Crews’s quest remains self-contradictory, for you can’t destroy a thinker’s legacy by attacking him; only oblivion can do that, and criticism is the opposite of forgetting. Reading this book, you can’t help feeling that Freud must be important indeed to inspire such anger and warrant such effort … Mr. Crews’s full-spectrum attack has the unintended effect of undermining Mr. Crews’s valid insights into the deep flaws of Freud’s thinking. It would be enough to prove Freud was not a scientist, and that psychoanalysis is not a science—claims that are now widely accepted. But when Mr. Crews adds that he was a liar and thief, or speculates that he practiced incest with his sister and adultery with his sister-in-law, the reader starts to lose faith in his impartiality.
...700 pages of closely argued indictment intended to definitively bury what Crews regards as the myth of Freud as an innovative and insightful thinker. By the time he’s done, the legendary Viennese doktor has been reduced to not much more than a rag, a bone, and a hank of hair … On occasion in Freud, Crews touches on the most fascinating aspect of Freud’s reputation: why he still retains the image of a seminal thinker when he doesn’t seem, after all, to have earned it … If the book fails, it is not in pressing its cause so fiercely but in mistaking who deserves the lion’s share of his scorn.
The rhetorical strategy at work here is that of a talented prosecutor. It traps the reader. Either you buy into the facts Crews foregrounds and relish the mounting glee of his attack or you’re propelled into an identification with the accused and ever struggling for breath, wishing that a defense attorney were in sight … His aim is to reveal that much of Freud’s writing on dreams, screen memories (or memories that hide deeper or older memories), love, sex, and marriage is more autobiographical than we already know. His Freud is utterly solipsistic, never actually drawing on patients or any human and social observation. So Freud’s essays on sex, love, and marriage are built on his own case, not on more general behavior.
...[an] elegant and relentless exposé ... Crews carefully digs through Freud’s free-wheeling handling of facts, especially regarding the idea of 'repressed memory of a sexual trauma' ... The author also reveals how many other theorists before Freud were exploring the role of the unconscious in psychoneuroses, which contradicts his self-depiction as a pioneer in the field, as well as how his editors tweaked the record. Crews comes to bury Freud, not to praise him, and he does so convincingly. Impressively well-researched, powerfully written, and definitively damning.
With his typical rapier wit and swaggering prose, Crews reveals that the emperor of psychoanalysis is wearing no clothes. In exhaustive and sometimes repetitious detail, he lays out a stunning indictment of Sigmund Freud ... This drawn-out but fascinating biographical study paints a portrait of Freud as a man who cared more about himself than his patients and more about success than science.