The Schopenhauer Cure: A Novel
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101 of 102 people found the following review helpful
Irving Yalom's marvelous new novel, "The Schopenhauer Cure," is a wide-ranging and exhilarating exploration of psychotherapy, philosophy, and humanity. Julius Hertzfeld is a respected therapist who learns that his days may be numbered. Rather than retreat from life to lick his wounds and contemplate all that he must leave behind, Julius is determined to spend his remaining time continuing his psychotherapeutic work. He decides to look up Philip Slate, a former patient whom he once treated for severe sex addiction. Philip, one of Dr. Hertzfeld's most egregious failures, quit after three years of what he considered to be futile treatment. Julius invites Philip, who now aspires to be a licensed counselor himself, to join his therapy group. Philip agrees and he brings some heavy baggage with him.

"The Schopenhauer Cure" goes in several directions, but they all merge into a seamless whole. Yalom invites the reader into the tumultuous world of Julius's group therapy sessions, and he delves a bit into the private lives of each member of Julius's group. Pam is a college professor who has failed both in her marriage and in her adulterous relationship. Rebecca has relied too much on her physical beauty, and as she ages, she must face the fact that her looks are slowly fading. Tony is a carpenter whose rough exterior and lack of formal education hide an innate intelligence. These and other members of the therapy group are thrown off stride by the shocking news of Julius's illness and by Philip's icy demeanor.

To make matters even more complicated and interesting, Philip claims that he cured himself of his sex addiction by modeling his life after the great German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. In a series of fascinating and informative chapters, Yalom traces the life and work of Arthur Schopenhauer, a brilliant but dour misanthrope whose seminal writings influenced Freud, Nietzche, and Sartre, among others. Yalom brings Schopenhauer to life and the chapters dealing with this prickly genius provide a fascinating counterpoint to the conflicts and revelations that permeate the rest of the book.

This story of people stripping away their defenses and baring their souls to one another gives valuable insight into the therapeutic process. Yalom's writing is witty, highly intelligent, and imbued with compassion. There are many touching passages and one, in particular, left me profoundly moved. If you enjoy a writer who embraces both the cerebral and the emotional aspects of life, but who is also tremendously entertaining, read this terrific novel.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Yalom writes about things that matter. Anyone who practices therapy (or not), individual or group, - on either side of the couch - must read Yalom. The Schopenhauer Cure takes us on a journey from disconnection to connection, a matter of life and death. Death turns our awareness to life: we connect "through the commonality of our suffering..." (p. 323).

Not only is Yalom a great novelist, but also a brilliant therapist. His earlier work touches on the essence of human nature. It is hard to believe that a single writer can get down to the core of so many vital issues. He began his work with a textbook -The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy (1970), and writing novels in 1991 - coming full circle from a text on the subject of group therapy to a novel about it. If I would have only discovered Yalom 35 years ago I would be much further along. But then the readiness is all - and I am now ready.

After his diagnosis of malignant cancer and having only a year of life left, psychotherapist Julius Hertzfeld looks up Phillip - a patient from the past who he felt had failed in treatment years earlier. Julius invites him into his group on a deal - the group in exchange for supervision. In some odd way I love Phillip - a Schopenhauer scholar whose life parallels the philosopher's and whose philosophy is woven throughout the novel - men who could not bond with others. In The Schopenhauer Cure I watch Phillip unfold.

Philosophy, endings/beginnings, connections/disconnections, life/death, and suffering are woven throughout. The Schopenhauer Cure is a message in living life to the fullest - even in the face of imminent death. Although Julius has cancer, he continues to live to do what he loves most - group therapy. Death takes care of itself - our job is to live; but "to learn to live well, one must first learn to die well." (p. 69).

Yalom's novel depicts group therapy at its finest. If there is one message that Yalom cries over the roof tops, it is this: "It's not ideas, nor vision, nor tools that truly matter in therapy.... - it's always the relationship." (p. 62). Yalom gets into the hearts of the participants as well as the therapist - and the thoughts that pass through their minds. Julius learns along with the group members - they are traveling the path together, and I with them. It is a journey through the emotional-relational world of the characters that Yalom so realistically creates -it is a real world. I wait for The Schopenhauer Cure to appear as a screenplay.

But all things must come to an end - even this novel. That's the nature of life. I don't want the group to end, for Julius Hertzfeld to end, for the novel to end. I read more slowly to keep them with me longer - Julius, Phillip, Tony, Pam and the others. They talk about things that matter - relationships, emotions, and together we move through broken pasts, ultimately arriving at connection.

Yalom is up there with Nietzsche. He is bold enough to face the inevitable - death. "Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood" (Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra; p. 39). And Yalom writes with his blood.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Irvin Yalom has had a multi-faceted career as a practicing psychotherapist, as a leading writer of texts on group therapy, and as a novelist. Yalom also had a deeply-based interest in philosophy. His novel "The Schopenhauer Cure" attempts to integrate fundmental human concerns, the search for love, for meaning in life, and for a way to accept death, with a novelistic portrayal of group therapy. It does so through a portrayal of Schopenhauer, among other philosophers. The book does not entirely succeed -- it is somewhat awkwardly written and the characterizations leave a good deal to be desired -- but it is thought-provoking and absorbing.

The story is set in San Francisco. The main character of the book is a famous psychiatrist, Julius, who learns that he has a fatal cancer. He considers how to spend his remaining time of health and, out of the blue, contacts Philip, a patient he had treated many years earlier, apparently unsuccesfully, for compulsive sexual behavior. Philip has in the intervening years given up his former career as a chemist, earned a PhD in philosophy and seeks to become a counselor. Philip has cured his sexual addiction by a study of the Nineteenth Century philosopher of pessimism, Arthur Schopenhauer. Like his mentor, Schopenhauer, Philip is arrogant, aloof, and brilliant. He agrees to become a participant in a therapy group lead by Julius in exchange for Julius's help in meeting the requirements for a counselling license.

We meet a variety of characters in Julius's group: the blue collar worker Tony, (the most appealing character in the book, in my view) the beautiful Rebecca, a lawyer concerned with the fading of her appearance, the reserved pediatrician Stuart, the librarian Bonnie, unhappy with her plainness, the English professor Pam, who has had numerous relationships in and outside marriage, all of them unsatisfactory, and the unhappily married and alcoholic Gill. The group is intrigued by Philip as the newcomer, by his detachment and his anti-sociability. But the members of the group are fascinated by Philip's insights and by his discussions of Scopenhauer's philosophy as a means of approaching the difficulties which plague them and which drive them to therapy. Sexual and relationship issues play a dominant role for each of the participants in the group and for Julius himself.

Gradually, Philip comes to open up and to find a peace with himself, Julius learns to come to terms with his impending death, and the members of the group make varied degrees of progress with themselves.

The chapters dealing with Julius and the group alternate with chapters discussing Schopenhauer's philosophy and life. Schopenhauer was an unattractive individual indeed but he has much to teach. The values of a life of the mind, together with its limitations are brought out well in the novel and compensate for some of the wordy therapy scenes and the insufficient development of some of the characters.

In addition to Schopenhauer, the book considers the works of other philosphers at key points and compares and contrasts them to Schopenhauer. Yalom shows a good ability to get at the heart of the teachings of these philosophers for purposes of his story. They include, particularly, Nietzsche, the stoic philosopher,Epictetus, and Aristotle. Thomas Mann's Schopenhauer-influenced novel "Buddenbrooks" also plays a substantial role in the discussion. As might be expected in a book dealing with Schopenhauer, there is a great deal of discussion of Buddhism and the growth of interest in the United States in the Buddha. In fact Pam, one of the major characters, spends ten days in India at a retreat given by the famous teacher Goenka, and subsequently joins a Buddhist church.

I found the religious and philosphical themes of this book helpful in a book meditating on death and on human sexuality. Julius, born Jewish, is an atheist and a skeptic. The other participants in the groups are, likewise, either secular in their religious orientation or tinged with an attraction to Buddhism. This combination of American secularism and Buddhism I have found appealing in recent years, and I felt validated, in a sense, by seeing this particular way of viewing oneself in the book. But I found myself curious, at several points, about what practicing Jews or Christians would say about this book and how they might respond to the dismissive attitude of the author and the protagonists of the story towards their theism.

This book works better as a study of philosophy and of the value of reflection than it does as a novel or as a portrayal of character. But I found it worthwhile.

Robin Friedman
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2005
I have ambivalent feelings about this book. As a novel it doesn't work well for me. The characters seem driven by the author's interests in group therapy, not by their own being, and it is disjointed. You get a chapter on Schopenhauer, then a chapter on group therapy, and so on until the rushed ending, which has a forced, expected feel. However, I really enjoyed reading it! I couldn't put it down, and even though I had already guessed the climax, when it arrived I was moved to tears. I liked the chapters on Schopenhauer and found myself caring for the characters. This novel is a mirror; it reflects your fear of death, your obsessions and anxieties, your broken places, and offers redemption. I can't wait to read the author's novel on Nietzche.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
As a psychiatrist, now newly retired, who has read most of Yalom's books, including his standard textbook on group therapy, I knew more or less what to expect in terms of the descriptions of group process. What surprised me was the heavy interlarding of both biography and exegesis of the pessimistic and misanthropic Schopenhauer, surely one of the least understood and oft-lampooned philosophers -- I'm reminded of that line from one of Ira Gershwin's lyrics: "My evenings were sour/Spent with Schopenhauer" -- whose writings are quoted, in translation, extensively to make certain points. As one of the group's participants says late in the book, the quotations are highly selected to make a certain kind of point, and many of Schopenhauer's other writings that contradict those quotations are conveniently passed over. Still, it's a daring literary conceit and one that Yalom very nearly pulled off. One certainly admires his daring is attempting it.

As a novel, one comes to care for the characters -- with some exceptions -- and the story carries one along. Unfortunately, the last fifty pages or so feel arbitrary, casually tossed off, and thus disappointing. One senses that Yalom cares for his characters, toward the end, as little as Schopenhauer cared for 'human bipeds,' to use his term.

I am glad to have read this novel. Yalom is an interesting writer. I do wish it had been better edited, though. His tendency to write awkwardly and, frankly, to misuse words (e.g. 'flaunt' for 'flout') would have been caught by an alert editor.

Scott Morrison
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2005
Our esteemed world guru Yalom, the author of "Lying on the Couch", "When Nietzsche Wept", and many other contributions, has done it again - offering us a fascinating novel about the socalled Schopenhauer Cure. Ingeniously he weaves together the biography of the philosopher Schopenhauer and a dynamic group therapy process with 8 patients and the leader, dr. Julius Hertzfeld. The trigger to expand this group was that the doctor himself received a diagnosis of malignant melanoma, with a prognosis of one year's reasonably good health. In order to invest this year with meaning he reconnected with an old patient failure, Philip, whom he treated 23 years ago. The doctor did not succeed in helping him control a pattern of an endless series of seductions of women. To his amazement this patient had eventually learned to overcome his sexual compulsiveness by becoming a dedicated philosopher and teacher. In addition, Philip was training himself to become a psychotherapist, and for that purpose he needed 2 years of supervision by dr. Hertzfeld to be certified. The doctor felt that Philip essentially was unfit to practise psychotherapy, because he refused to enter into normal social relationships, being as arrogant and selfabsorbed as he ever was. Hoping to help Philip with this I-Thou problem he invited him to join his ongoing therapy group for a year. In return Philip offered to teach the doctor and his patients the Schopenhauer cure.
The essence of this cure could be summarized as follows: Decide through denial that you should never again enter into meaningful relations with others. Such an extreme dependence upon other people is exactly what makes us so vulnerable. You should develop an inner strength of self sufficiency and autonomy. At the deepest level it is necessary to get rid of the wanting of your sexuality and the will to live, through asceticism. Schopenhauer's predicament was that his father committed suicide, and he was alienated from his mother most of his grownup life.
During the exciting group process Philip acted out his new lonesome strategy of life, inspired by Schopenhauer, by such techniques as teaching, never offering eye contact, never getting into affective interaction with the other members. This approach worked rather well within the framework of dr. Hertzfeld's characteristic interpersonal group therapy until Pam, an old group member, returned from her retreat to a famous holy man in India. She surprisingly happened to be one of the countless women Philip seduced many years ago, and she hated him bitterly for the negative impact that experience had had upon her life. Philip now simply had to confront his shameful past with Pam herself and the other members of the group, thus meeting the requirement of dr. Hertzfeld af accepting himself as a truly social being.
What a reading delight and learning experience this novel was, so captivating, engaging, and full of wisdom. In my opinion, as a lifelong practicioner of group therapy, Yalom has taught us at times more effectively the human, personal touch during treatment in his novels than in his world famous text books.
The conclusion is that Yalom, through his alter ego dr. Hertz-feld, must reject the Schopenhauer cure, at least for the practice of psychotherapy, even if it cured Philip's sexual com-pulsion. He reaffirms his wellknown interpersonal approach with the emphasis on the here and now interaction between the participants. Group therapy is essentially a social micro-cosmos where we can learn to become truly human beings. Simi-larly to what often happens in my own groups you get to really appreciate and love the group leader and each member of this wonderful group.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2005
Having written the most widely-used textbook on Group Therapy, Dr. Yalom has turned to fiction as possibly the best way to convey the story and philosophy of how group theory actually works in real life. This way he can create characters that reflect the characteristics of patients Dr. Yalom treated during his many years of practice.

The title comes from the nineteenth century German philosopher whose great influence on Freud has gone largely unacknowledged. The author weaves the story of Schopenhauer into the story in a way that creates a psychobiography of Schopenhauer while telling a compelling story of life and death, about the intertwined traditions of psychology and philosophy and about the intellectual and emotion through a line from the past to ourselves.

All that sounds complex, so complex that you'd think the story would get dull. But this is not Dr. Yalom's first novel, he is able to twist the stories together in a way that they support each other to make a delightful read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2006
I enjoy learning about philosophy but often find it dry and depressing. Yalom's book is anything but. It was compelling reading and while I had the feeling of reading a thriller (because I couldn't put it down) I also felt I was being educated. If you enjoyed 'Sophie's World' by Jostein Gaarder you may like this book even more (more believable).

I rushed out and bought 'Love's Executioner' and have almost finished it - a great read too - short stories about Yalom's real life patients (details changed to protect their identities). I am now about to go shopping for more of his books!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2005
As a therapist I have followed Yalom's work for many years. This book, while not his best is an excellent primer on group therapy as well as philosophy. Having just finished "Momma and the meaning of life", I was a little disappointed, especially at the conclusion of this novel. However, for anyone interested in the process of group therapy and the philosophy of Schopenhauer, it is a worthwhile read.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
As a Wagnerian and someone who has studied Buddhism extensively I was familiar with Schopenhauer's philosophy, so when I found this book I looked forward to reading it. I have enjoyed Dr. Yalom's other novels. Julius, an eminent psychotherapist discovers he has terminal cancer. Evaluating his life he wonders about the impact he has or has not had on the patients who have passed through his office. He particularly wonders what has happened to a patient by the name of Phillip Slate who suddenly left therapy with Julius after three years of treatment for sexual addiction. Phillip could not exist without several casual sexual encounters each day. He was a predator who used women and then threw them away. Julius decides to track down Phillip twenty years after he ended therapy. What he finds is a remote and isolated man who is a professor of philosophy at a local university. Phillip has become what he calls a philosophical therapist. He is now cured of his sexual addiction. He tells Julius he was cured by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and has modeled his life upon Schopenhauer's. Schopenhauer was a morbid pessimist, a misanthrope, a misogynist. He never married and lived in self-imposed isolation. Phillip lives the same way.

Phillip is seeking to be licensed as a therapist and actually sees some patients. He asks Julius to be his supervising therapist. Julius is dismayed by the thought that this remote, isolated but brilliant man will attempt to help people with their interpersonal relationships. Thus as a condition of being his therapist he requires that Phillip join his group therapy sessions for a year in the hope that Phillip will learn to be more human. Phillip agrees to the plan.

Most of the book consists of accounts of the dynamics of the group therapy. Alternating with this are chapters about the life of Schopenhauer. Phillip undertakes to help the group members by teaching them about the great philosopher. Ultimately he is the one taught about loving and living. Herein is the problem with the novel. The six people who make up the group in addition to Phillip never come alive for the reader. For me they are wooden -there solely so that Yalom can teach his reader about the techniques of group therapy. In intense sessions of confrontation between the group members they begin to undergo the process of understanding themselves and changing. Still the insights into their characters and problems are merely on the surface. We find out little about their lives outside the group. The only character who even remotely came alive for me was Julius. Still we are told nothing about his battle with cancer. We learn nothing about what the last year of his life is like outside of his group. Although this is a book that obstensibly is concerned with interpersonal relationships we see nothing of Julius' last year with his children and friends. This sole focus on the therapy group gives the novel a claustrophobic feel to it which begins to oppress the reader. The ending is glib and ultimately unsatisfying. We never learn what happens to most members of the group. How do they integrate what they have learned in their outside lives?

Still despite it failings kudos must go to Dr. Yalom who has undertaken to integrate the complex teachings of Schopenhauer into a novel. As an intellectual exercise the novel succeeds, as an emotional exercise I am not so sure. Despite whatever failings it may have it is definitely worthwhile reading for the serious reader.
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