6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2010
Rather than produce the proverbial autobiography or memoir - there are already more than enough of those out there - acclaimed psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim summed up much of his values in an anthology of essays on topics ranging from Freud and psychoanalysis in turn-of-the-century Vienna to the role of television in modern American society. Although nearly all of these essays have appeared elsewhere, they have been assembled in a handy little book for the first time, with many updates and amendments. Overall, the writing is clear and easy to read, something I cannot say for many (if not most) other books by psychiatrists and psychologists I have read; that fact alone, along with the interest Dr. Bettelheim shows for his subject matter, makes the book well worth reading.
The book is divided into three parts: On Freud and Psychoanalysis, Children and Myself, and On Jews and the Camps. The first part discusses the formation and growth of the movement in Vienna and how the author came to learn about this revolutionary mode of thinking. Some essays were more interesting than others; for example, I found myself wondering why Dr. Bettlheim chose to include "Two Voices of Freud" and "A Secret Asymmetry" in this collection. They are somewhat academic; as such, they will probably appeal to students of early psychology but may seem a little dry to the general reader. On the other hand, I did find myself pleasantly surprised by "How I Learned About Psychoanalysis" and "Lionel Trilling on Literature and Psychoanalysis," even though I am not a student of psychology in any way. Both essays managed to capture and hold my interest as a general reader.
Part II, On Children and Myself, contained much material of interest to me as a parent and teacher; I was especially interested in learning from Dr. Bettelheim's work with children with special needs. Most intersting was the first, "Essential Books of One's Life," which predated Dr. Robert Coles's writing on a similar theme, the importance of certain books - and the characters of novels, myths, and nonfiction works - for one's own development and the intellectual, emotional, and ethical development of the children in our care. Readers interested in exploring this topic further would do well to read Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment," a book I recommend highly for anyone interested in exploring folklore, mythology, and fairy tales. However, the two essays on the role of media - film and television - left little impact on me. I found them to be overly optimistic; many readers will disagree with the good doctor on how television (and its modern equivalent, streaming online media) is of little harm to children. In my opinion, at best, children can benefit from non-commercial programs on public television and the occasional nature documentary, but so much of the rest of television programming is highly materialistic, commercial, and full of messages of dubious ethical values. Interstingly, his essay "Children and Museums" does little to actually promote the many benefits museums have to offer - all of this being very surprising coming from such an erudite man who has spent much of his career working with children. "Feral Children and Autistic Children" is interesting for what it says about the latter but very dated about all the space it devotes to rumors of rumors of children having grown up in the wild, the one exception being the famous wild boy of Ayeron, a story that inspired Maria Montessori and her work with children with special needs. "Master Children and Prodigious Pupil" is one of Dr. Bettelheims's treasures in his description of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, and what other dedicated teachers - those who care about children's welfare more than the latest educational theory or fad - can learn from how these two remarkable women benefited from each other's company. Indeed, it sheds much new light on Annie Sullivan and forecasts Dr. Ken Robinson's critical message that, as a society, we are killing the creativity of our children and, by extension, ourselves. For more on this noteworthy topic, I refer the reader to Ken Robinson's "The Elemenent" and his wonderful speeches on [...]. At last, here are inspirational speakers who actually inspire rather than merely make us feel warm and fuzzy.
The final part deals with Jews and the Holocaust, particularly noteworthy as Bettelheim himself survived Dachau and Buchenwald. The first essay is another of Bettelheim's treasures, "Janusz Korczak: A Tale for Our Time," a priceless essay on the man who in recent years has become my hero. Bettelheim originally wrote the essay an an introduction for the first edition of the first full (unabridged and unadapted) translation of Korczak's beloved children's classic, "King Matt the First" by Richard Lourie. Indeed, Bettelheim cites an ancient Jewish myth that on Earth, there must live any any one time at least thirty-six rightous people, people of such high ethical standing as to justify humanity in the eyes of the Lord; in doing so, he conjectures that Korczak was one of these rare people. Sadly, most of Korczak's writings still remain unaccessible to English-speaking readers, though his works have been widely disseminated in the original Polish, Hebrew, German, Dutch, and French, as well as new translation of his selected works into Arabic. Here was a man who put his revolutionary philosophy of educating and raising children into practice in running an orphanage in Warsaw, Poland, a pracice he continued with selfless devotion when he and his charges were incarcerated in the Ghetto during the Nazi occupation, eventually accompanying his children on the death trains to Treblinka, a scene that cannot fail to bring tears to one's eyes. Bettelheim goes into considerable detail about some of what we can learn from this remarkable man; readers can find more from Betty Jean Lifton's remarkable biography and several Web sites, including that of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, which has published the entire Engish translation of the "Selected Works of Janusz Korczak" (Wibor Pizm) - a book otherwise exremely difficult to find. As a symbol of the Rightous Among Nations, he discusses the role of Miep Gies in "Hope for Humanity," - that the only hope for all of us is to stand up to evil and take the responsibility to do something to make the world a better place, a theme so eloquently discussed in Rabbi Jonathan Sachs's "Healing a Fractured World." Both essays are very inspiring, leaving the reader shocked with the third essay, "Children of the Holocuast," discussing how people are able and unable to fully recover from server trauma. This, too, is a remarkable piece of writing and an important contribution to Holocuast study. "Returning to Dachau" left Bruno Bettelheim cold, it does the same for the reader; it is worth reading, but it is not nearly as memorable as the three pieces that preceeded it. The final essay, "Freedom from Ghetto Thinking,"is the most controversial; indeed it has earned Bettelheim not a little criticism. Most people will disagree with its premise that many Jews did not do enough to prevent their own persecution (and in many cases aided and abetted it); indeed, more and more books and exhibitions on the Holocuast are refuting this premise. Read the essay for the points it makes; the reader is left to form his or own opinion as to the extent one should agree or disagree.
All in all, here are some 18 essays, all of them highly readable though a little inconsistent. To this reviewer, this was an interesting book; Bruno Bettelheim was a very interesting and erudite man, whose writings deserve to be read.