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Sybil: The true and extraordinary story of a woman possessed by sixteen separate personalities Mass Market Paperback – May 25, 1989

174 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Astonishing . . . It forces you to look at yourself and the people around you in a new way." (Doris Lessing)

"Illumination. . . fascinating!" (Chicago Tribune)

"Spellbinding!" (Time magazine)

"A moving human narrative." (New York Review of Books)

About the Author

Flora Rheta Schreiber was the psychiatry editor of Science Digest when she first heard about Sybil. She spent seven years writing this book. She is also the author of The Shoemaker. She died in 1988 in New York City of a heart attack.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reissue edition (May 25, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446359408
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446359405
  • Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 140 people found the following review helpful By Sandra D. Peters on February 16, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
It is impossible to say a book on such a sensitive and horrific issue as child abuse is a great book to read; in fact, this book is probably one of the most difficult ones to read that you will ever come across. Having studied psychology, it is a known fact that Multiple Personality Disorder(MPD) is associated with child abuse. The personality "splits" when the human psyche can no longer cope with the pain of abuse.
Sybil is a story of such abuse at the hands of a mentally disturbed mother - sexual, physical and emotional abuse prevail. Sybil is a true story based on one of the most severe cases of MPD and child abuse in history. Over a span of twenty years, it reveals the various "personalities" living within one woman. How one could even survive such atrocities is beyond belief. The time period of this story ends in the 40's. Today, research continues on this subject and much has been learned since Sybil's case, but one can never have enough knowledge.
Sybil's personalities eventually merge and in 1998, the real Sybil died, finding, we hope, final peace and contentment. If you are interested in books on MPD, another true life story is, First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple, by Cameron West, PH.D.
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107 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Newstead on June 7, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In 1954, a thin, nervous young woman walked into the office of New York psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur complaining of unusual "spells". She would inexplicably "lose time", fading out of consciousness and coming to again hours or even days later, often in an unfamiliar city and wearing clothing she never remembered buying. Believing it to be a case of hysteria, Dr. Wilbur embarks on what she thinks will be a routine course of treatment. Until, that is, her patient strode into the office one day with a confident, almost aristocratic air. "Sybil couldn't come," she says, "you can call me Vicky." Dr. Wilbur realized she was dealing with a victim of multiple personality disorder, then almost unheard of. For Dr. Wilbur and the young woman (whom the author gives the pseudonym of Sybil) it was the beginning of an emotionally exhausting eleven-year journey to make a fractured human being whole again.
In the course of her treatment, Sybil proved to have no less than sixteen different personalities (including two male alters, Mike and Sid). The sophisticated Vicky was the "record keeper" of the selves, holding back the memories too painful for Sybil and the others to know. Peggy Lou was the repository of Sybil's anger--defiant, belligerent, contemptuous of Sybil and terrified of breaking glass; Vanessa, a redhead with impressive musical talent. Some, like Ruthie, were barely more than toddlers mentally.
Vicky had good reason to keep the memories in check. Sybil had endured a childhood so horrible the word "nightmarish" doesn't do it justice. The child of a schizophrenic mother, (called "Hattie") and a passive, distant Fundamentalist father, Sybil never knew what awful or outlandish thing her mother was liable to do.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Moore on October 8, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
If you are interested in psychology Sybil is a must read. It is about a girl with sixteen personalities. It is based on a true story about her life. It is very well written and although it may get a little confusing, you eventually learn to recognize each individual personality within Sybil.
This book is a tantalizing journey through Sybil's life and journey to become whole again. It involves some graphic descriptions of horrible events that made Sybil split into multiple personalities and therefore may not be appropriate for children under 13 years of age.
I have learned a lot from this book and it has opened my eyes to the interesting field of psychology. I would have to call it one of the most interesting books I have ever read and I look forward to reading it again.
Therefore I hope everyone can take time out of his or her busy schedule to read this book.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Charles M. Cornell on July 17, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
My sister read this book for a college psychology class when I was around 8 or 9 and I remember her speaking of it incredulously. I finally read it when I was a bit older, and became so fascinated by the case of Sybil and her inner struggle for self-discovery. The film version with Sally Field was brilliant! I have read and re-read this book, endlessly engrossed with the whole issue of multiple personality and the sad, frightening reality of child abuse. Sybil is such a courageous, yet tragic person. I was saddened to hear of her death, but believe by coming forward during her frightening ordeal she has helped many of others struggling with a similar situation. In a class by itself. See the movie too!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. Luciano VINE VOICE on February 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is the allegedly true story of Sybil, whose name was changed for the story to protect her privacy. Almost from the time she was born, Sybil was subjected to horrific physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of her schizophrenic mother. As a toddler, Sybil learned that she would be severely punished for getting angry, or for crying, or for exhibiting a wide variety of other normal emotions. In order to cope with her situation, her mind broke apart and comparmentalized her personality, eventually creating fifteen other "selves." Each separate personality was assigned a specific role in Sybil's life, such as Vicky, the outgoing and worldly one who could be at ease in social situations, Peggy Lou, who got angry and smashed things, and Mike and Sid, who handled construction and handyman duties.

Although the created personalities were aware of each other and able to communicate with each other to some degree, Sybil was completely unaware that they existed. What she knew was that there were many things she couldn't remember from her childhood, that seemingly ordinary objects and situations had the power to fill her with absolute terror, and that there were long periods of time she'd somehow blacked out. The most dramatic example of lost time was after Sybil's beloved grandmother's funeral, when Sybil was in third grade. She blacked out and returned to herself in a fifth-grade classroom. Her Peggy Lou personality had controlled her body for over a year.

This novel covers the course of Sybil's psychological treatment, leading her toward coming to terms with her childhood abuse and toward integrating her personalities into one complete self.

Although the validity of this story has been challenged, it is a compelling read even if treated as fiction.
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