Bettelheim: A Life and a Legacy

Nina Sutton, Author, David Sharp, Translator
Nina Sutton, Author, David Sharp, Translator Westview Press $35 (606p) ISBN 978-0-465-00635-9
Paperback - 640 pages - 978-0-8133-9099-4
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""When something bad happens to you,"" psychological innovator Bruno Bettelheim said, ""turn it around and use it."" He did. When the Nazis absorbed his Austrian homeland in 1938, Bettelheim was arrested for being a Jew and endured Buchenwald concentration camp for nearly a year. He arrived in the U.S. nearly penniless, armed with a doctorate in aesthetics. Never confessing he had no degree in psychology, he exploited his experience of psychoanalysis into an acclaimed and innovative career. Paris-based journalist Sutton, in what is almost a detective story, follows his rise to fame as he employed, in the words of one Bettelheim reviewer, ""insights gained in the laboratory of the author's own life."" His compulsion to master extreme situations impelled him to treat autistics (less effectively than he would claim) and to seek big grants that increased the pressure to claim research breakthroughs. However, psychiatric magic was often illusory, and bullying and condescension masked decades of anxieties compounded by survivor's guilt. Depressed and ill at 86, Bettelheim took his own life in 1990. Eulogies of the complex and stubborn Holocaust survivor as the ""soul doctor"" of mentally ill children were succeeded by indictments of him as arrogant and brutal. For this book, the first major biography of Bettelheim, Sutton, with sympathy, opens a closet of personal skeletons that will intrigue more than just professional psychologists. (May)
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