cover image Identity's Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson

Identity's Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson

Lawrence Jacob Friedman. Scribner Book Company, $35 (592pp) ISBN 978-0-684-19525-4

Friedman, a professor of history at Indiana University and author of Menninger, offers the first authorized biography of Erikson, an engaging portrait of the psychologist's life and its relationship to his exploration of the concept of identity. Born out of wedlock to a Jewish mother, Karla Abrahamsen, in Denmark, Erikson didn't know who his biological father was. From the age of three, when Karla remarried a German Jew, Theodore Homburger, Erikson was raised in his adoptive father's household. As the author convincingly suggests, the circumstances of Erikson's childhood later prompted him to investigate the basis for a constant, enduring identity ""because that pursuit... was vital to his personal quest for self-discovery."" Friedman's biography is lucidly written, extensively researched and covers both Erikson's rise to celebrity in the 1950s and 1960s and the attacks on his reputation from feminist and New Left critics in the 1970s. However, he might have done more to counterbalance the emphasis on Erikson's personal life with a discussion of the concurrent developments of psychoanalytic theorists such as Spitz and Mahler and of psychologists such as Piaget and Bowlby, who had all taken an interest in the problem of establishing a permanent sense of self in childhood and who undoubtedly contributed to the development of Erikson's own thought. Nevertheless, this book presents a sensitive investigation of the connections between the life and thought of one of the most important psychoanalysts since Freud. Agent, Gerard McCauley. (May)