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Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst (Jewish Lives) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 27, 2014

3.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


‘The book’s structure is bound by two constraints: the brevity of the period covered – the first 50 years of Freud’s life (he lived until he was 83) - and his Jewishness. But, as with Shakespeare working within the strictures of the sonnet form, Phillips presses these potential limits to acute and dazzling effect.’—Salley Vickers, The Daily Telegraph
(Salley Vickers The Daily Telegraph 2014-06-21)

‘[T]his short, meditative succeeds superbly in delineating the culture and thought processes that lay behind his work.’—Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times
(Ian Critchley The Sunday Times 2014-06-15)

‘More a biographical essay than a comprehensive biography, since it ends with Freud aged 50, this beautifully lucid book is jargon-free and richly informative, which is hardly surprising since Phillips was the series editor of The New Penguin Freud.’—Helen Meany, Irish Times
(Helen Meany The Irish Times 2014-08-15)

"As a writer, Mr. Phillips specializes in paradoxes and antitheses — almost all of which he puts forth thoughtfully and gracefully . . . An intelligent and well-written book."—Steven Marcus, New York Times
(Steven Marcus New York Times)

"An audacious book. . . . Its implicit goal, never stated but always clear, is to help us salvage the best parts of Freud’s work while leaving behind the rest—the outmoded theories and unwieldy jargon that make Freud a caricature rather than an intriguing thinker."—Joshua Rothman, New Yorker Blog (Joshua Rothman New Yorker Blog)

"Clear and engaging."—Kirkus Reviews
(Kirkus Reviews)

"A compact intellectual biography. . . . Phillips often illuminatingly reads Freud's thinking against the background of his life circumstances. . . . Probably more than any other psychoanalytically informed writer, Phillips has continued to enrich this mode of thought by literary means, through sheer force of style."—Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
(Kenneth Baker San Francisco Chronicle)

"Phillips excels at re-describing concepts and experiences whose meanings appear settled, stale or too technical."—Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
(Kenneth Baker San Francisco Chronicle)

"Telling a great story gracefully and with the clarity it deserves, in all its layers, Adam Phillips demonstrates that Freud remains central to the urgent questions of modernism— social, political and cultural, as well as psychological. I will be thinking about specific sentences in this book for a long time."—Robert Pinsky

(Robert Pinsky)

"Adam Phillips is, I believe, one of the most engaging writers in the world on analysis and the analytic movement . . . Phillips’s own love of the beauty and power of psychoanalysis here serves both him and the reader wonderfully well."—Vivian Gornick, New York Times Book Review
(Vivian Gornick New York Times Book Review)

Becoming Freud offers more than enough proof that Phillips is the ideal author of a book about Freud.’—Talitha Stevenson, Financial Times
(Talitha Stevenson Financial Times 2014-05-31)

From the Author

Praise for Adam Phillips
“Adam Phillips is one of the richest and most rewarding essayists of our time." —Los Angeles Times
“Phillips has made psychoanalytic thought livelier and more poetic than ever.”­­—New York Times
“The curious thing about reading Phillips is that he makes you feel smart and above the daily grind at the same time as he reassures you that you are not alone in your primal anxieties about whether you are lovable or nuts or, perhaps, merely boring.” —New York Times Magazine
“Adam Phillips writes with far-sighted equanimity. . . . He’s a little like an Oliver Sacks of psychoanalysis, both affable and unalarmed.” —Boston Sunday Globe
“[Phillips is] one of the finest prose stylists at work in the language, an Emerson of our time.” —John Banville
"Phillips’s authority as a writer comes in no small part from his own experience as a highly regarded therapist." —Boston Globe
"[Phillips is] adept at making the complex comprehensible.”—Independent
“In Phillips’ hands, nothing is as ordinary as it appears to be. Each essay is a kind of mystery tour; you never know where you are going to end up.”—Times Literary Supplement
“[Phillips has] punched lovely skylights into the gloomy Freudian edifice and in general done much to rehabilitate the psychoanalytic enterprise by honoring the idiosyncrasy of human experience and by wielding method lightly, playfully, humanely.”—Esquire

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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Lives
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (May 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300158661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300158663
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Adam Phillips’ slender biography of Freud published this year (2014) and titled “Becoming Freud” is one that I was quite intrigued to read. It is brief, written by an analyst who is also the editor of the new Penguin Standard Edition of Freud – someone who is editing the new translations without speaking German! Does he get Freud? Well, he spends the first chapter clarifying that, from Freud’s perspective, there is no such thing as an accurate biography. From Freud’s (via Phillips) perspective, the biography is more about the biographer than about the object of the biography, just as this blog is more about me than about Adam Phillips’ work, and just as what you think or say about this blog is more about you than me, Phillips, or Freud. From Freud’s perspective, it is the subjective experience of the person that matters. And this is, I believe, at the heart of what it is that Freud had to say and certainly Phillips takes this stance as well.

So Phillips approach to Freud is not to flat footedly analyze him by attributing actions to hypothesized unconscious motivations as others have sometimes done, instead he takes a swirling, free associational stab at describing Freud’s history – what is known and so much that is unknown and, in a weird approach for a psychoanalyst, he analyzes not Freud the person so much as Freud the socio- psychoanalytic individual who emerges at a particular point in history – the history of European thought – he sees Freud as a left over Romantic as the world is becoming modern (ironically largely at his prodding) – and the history of European Judaism – Freud may be a Godless Jew, but he is deeply determined, Phillips believes, by his cultural origins.

To see the rest of the review, please Google Adam Phillips and the Reluctant Psychoanalyst...
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Format: Hardcover
Adam Phillips, an English psychoanalyst and general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics translations of Sigmund Freud, has written a concise biography, Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst, which follows Freud up to the age of fifty.

Interestingly for someone whose life work was explicating a patient's biography, Freud was against anyone writing his. Indeed, when he was 30 he wrote his fiancee that he had destroyed all his notes, letters, scientific excerpts, and manuscripts of his papers to frustrate future biographers. This, Phillips points out, from a man "with no distinctive professional achievements . . . a man [who thinks he] will be worthy not of one biography but of many."

Phillips does his best to put Freud into his place and times. Although Freud was a secular Jew, he was conscious of his Jewishness (and a sister died in the Holocaust) and worried that psychiatry would be seen as a "Jewish science." He was trained as a doctor, but had little interest in medicine. He was far more interested in language, in the stories people tell about themselves, and in writing his books. He presented himself as a scientist, but his books—Interpreting Dreams (1900), The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905) and others—are hardly scientific.

However, as Phillips writes, "[t]he facts of a life—and indeed the facts of life—were among the many things that Freud's work has changed our way of thinking about.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was interested in this book because of my belief that unawareness of psychology—in many cases, tantamount to ignorance of it—along with at best bare knowledge or acknowledgement of history accounts largely for the weakness and decline of the U.S. Failure to recognize psychology and history so as to govern decision-making for shaping action results in madcap activities little different from antics—but one characterization of the decade-long U.S. commotion in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I was interested in this book to see if or how the author might make Freud relevant to today's miasmas and as some idea or answer whatever its angle or content for reintroducing the factor—unavoidable factor—of psychology to today's society and its politics and policies.

The book did not disappoint, and in fact exceeded by a good deal expectations I had of it, expectations raised by its author's longtime interests and credentials. As well as the general editor of new translations of Freud's works as a part of the Penguin Modern Classics, Phillips has worked as a hospital and private psychoanalyst in England and is a visiting professor of English at the University of York. He does recurringly imply or to a lesser extent, state the relevance of psychology to the contemporary world while following and analyzing the early years of Freud's career, up to 1906. "If Freud had died in 1906, we would...have been left with...the rudiments of, rather than prescriptions for, the practice of psychoanalysis."

As for insights into what Freud was doing in this stage of his career—as opposed to the illuminating commentary exemplified in the foregoing quote—Phillips writes, "Psychoanalysis was becoming in Freud's writing in these years the artful science of our false senses of security.
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