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.