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Schneider, J. (1995). “The Boy Will Come To Nothing!” By Leonard Shengold. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1993, 184 pp., $30.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 43:895-898.

(1995). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 43:895-898

“The Boy Will Come To Nothing!” By Leonard Shengold. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1993, 184 pp., $30.00.

Review by:
Jorge Schneider

Dr. Shengold's book reads like a series of historical essays; though they have a certain continuity, each chapter can be read independently from the others. This approach has some drawbacks, since it affects the book's overall cohesion.

Another problem in reading this otherwise well-written, scholarly work, is the lack of clarity as to what audience is being addressed. As a psychoanalyst I found myself being instructed on basic developmental psychoanalytic theory. I experienced this aspect of the book as rather repetitious and not directed at my level of knowledge.

When not distracted by these minor factors, the reader will enjoy a well thought out and historically fascinating story.

The central theme of the book is the relationship between the son and the father, in this case exemplified by Freud, both as son and father. Shengold's thesis is that the derivatives of this relationship not only affected Freud but influenced our culture and, more specifically, our analytic ego ideal. Although this is a worthwhile attempt, one wonders whether it is possible to isolate this aspect of Freud's life without considering his relationships to women. Dr. Shengold is quite aware of the artificiality of this approach, but he nevertheless sees enough merit in it to restrict it in this way. Although I respect his decision, the reader should keep this focus in mind when evaluating Dr. Shengold's formulations.

The title of the book derives from Freud's early memory, as he describes it in The Interpretation of Dreams:

One evening before going to sleep I disregarded the rules which modesty lays down and obeyed the call of nature in my parents' bedroom while they were present. In the course of his reprimand my father let fall the words: “The boy will come to nothing!” This must have been a frightful blow to my ambition, for references to this scene are still constantly recurring in my dreams and are always linked with an enumeration of my achievements and successes, as though I wanted to say: “You see, I have come to something” [Freud, 1900, p. 216].

Shengold uses this event in Freud's life to develop his thoughts on the possible effect on Freud's ambition but, more importantly, on the relationship of the son to the father in three areas: idealization, murderous wishes, and the affectionate-homosexual component.

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