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How Do We Know Who We Are?: A Biography of the Self Hardcover – May 1, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195095731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195095739
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,230,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this blend of literary study and psychology, Ludwig (psychiatry, Kentucky Coll. of Medicine) delves into the idea of how we can gain insight into our own selves through the reading of biographies. He interviewed 21 well-known biographers, including David McCullough (Harry Truman), Arnold Rampersad (Langston Hughes), Leon Edel (Henry James), Diane Middlebrook (Anne Sexton), and Hollywood biographer Donald Spoto. The biographers describe how they labored to give structure to their subject's lives even when they had to deal with myriad conflicting points of view. Using the biographer's input and his own observations, Ludwig takes the reader through the process of how such forces as personal experiences, culture, and family all work to make us who we are. Those interested in the lives of the famous and all readers of psychology will find this book well worth reading.?Ronald Ratliff, Chapman H.S. Lib., Kan.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

In ``Leaves of Grass,'' Walt Whitman writes ``Do I contradict myself?/Very well then, I contradict myself;/I am large, I contain multitudes.'' This remarkable work explores the multifaceted, elusive, and ever-evolving phenomenon of each person's self. Ludwig (Psychiatry/Univ. of Kentucky School of Medicine) relies in large part on extensive interviews with such prominent biographers as Leon Edel and Peter Gay to ascertain how they arrive at the ``self'' of such subjects as Henry James and Sigmund Freud. Generally, he finds, they use four sets of data: a person's self- revelations through diaries and letters; the reactions of contemporaries to the figure; the behavior of the subject; and the creative works of the subject. Ludwig soon broadens this to draw on a wonderfully interdisciplinary range of material: A typical passage contains allusions to and citations from Nietzsche, Victor Frankl, and Samuel Beckett. Ludwig delineates a ``self-system'' that is divided into ``I'' and ``me'' subsystems. The ``I'' observes, internally narrates experience, and organizes the rest of the self, while the ``me'' perceives, experiences, and moves about in the interpersonal and sensory worlds. Ludwig delves into what mad and evil individuals reveal about the functioning of self, and how we experiment with creating ``new'' selves that really draw upon latent ``old'' parts of our personalities. He expresses skepticism about the distinction between a ``true'' and a ``false'' self, quoting Gay as observing, ``A facade is part of the self as well.'' Ludwig also provides a brief, quite brilliant exposition and critique of the concept of an ``authentic'' self, noting that it is rooted in a male Victorian ethos and that it has been overshadowed by the more contemporary American notion of self- invention. Ludwig's beautifully written and intellectually provocative book is one of those rare works that offer fresh, profound insights, moving the reader to think probingly about his or her own life and self. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book should have been far more interesting than it is. Can there be a more interesting subject than understanding who we really are, and if we discover that?

I had hoped that this book would give real insight into the way we know and define ourselves. From the chapters I read and admit not to having read the whole I did not have a sense that there was any development toward ' real understanding of the impossibly difficult and insoluble perhaps question'.

What the book does have is a number of distinguished biographers telling something about the way they understand biography. There is also Ludwig's conception of biographical freedom and the way each of us may construct the narrative of his own life. I connect this with an idea in Judaism in which each great sage makes through the story of his life a Sefer Torah that can be read by the generations to come.

I think that there is much more to this book than I have indicated. And I certainly would recommend that anyone interested in the subject of self - definition through biography have a look at this book.
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