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Perdigão, H.G. (1986). The Immortal Atatürk. A Psychobiography: By Vamik D. Volkan and Norman Itzkowitz. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984. 374 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 55:681-688.

(1986). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 55:681-688

The Immortal Atatürk. A Psychobiography: By Vamik D. Volkan and Norman Itzkowitz. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984. 374 pp.

Review by:
H. Gunther Perdigão

History and psychoanalysis have certain affinities. Both disciplines study human thoughts, actions, and motives, sharing the difficulties inherent in retrospective studies. Both examine a multiplicity of possible explanations, and each historian and psychoanalyst emphasizes different causal connections. The epistemological problem is similar in both fields. The historian attempts to recreate objective reality and the psychoanalyst to recreate psychological reality.

The Immortal Atatürk, the result of a collaboration between a historian and a psychoanalyst, blends the Turkish historical milieu with a wealth of information about the psychological life of an outstanding man of the twentieth century, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The book covers much new ground, resulting from extensive interviews with those who had first-hand contact with Atatürk and with the formation of the new government in Ankara and the last gasps of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. It abounds in detail about Turkey, although, as will be discussed later, it ignores the Turkish massacre of the Armenians. This study is unabashedly pro-Turkish.

Atatürk was a charismatic leader who transformed the "sick man of Europe," as the Ottoman Empire had been called, into a peaceful nation with secure borders. In only twenty years, Atatürk changed Turkey from a corrupt, feudal theocracy with archaic Islamic laws into a Westernized, secular republic. With remarkably little reactionary backlash, Atatürk rewove the whole fabric of the Turkish nation, dismantled the Ottoman Empire, and brought about Western reforms. Completely new legal codes were fashioned after Western standards. Under his leadership, traditional Moslem headgear was abandoned, the numbering system was made to conform to that of the West, the Latin alphabet was introduced, the metric system was adopted, the Koran was translated into Turkish, and surnames became mandatory.


1 From his birth until adolescence, Atatürk had, according to Turkish custom, only one name, Mustafa. Later, "Kemal" ("the perfect one") was added to his name and still later, "Atatürk" ("father of the Turkish nation"). For simplicity this review will refer to him only as "Atatürk."

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