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Levenson, L. (2020). Freud: an intellectual biography: by Joel Whitebook, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2017, 484 pp., $39.99 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-521-86418-3. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 101(3):611-616.

(2020). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 101(3):611-616

Freud: an intellectual biography: by Joel Whitebook, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2017, 484 pp., $39.99 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-521-86418-3

Lawrence Levenson

“Does the world need another biography of Sigmund Freud?,” Joel Whitebook asks in his introduction to Freud: An Intellectual Biography. Whitebook undoubtedly is right to wonder about the world’s interest in another Freud biography given the vast scholarship that already exists about the founder of psychoanalysis. “The answer is an emphatic yes,” Whitebook declares, not because new information has emerged that calls for another comprehensive biography, but because a psychoanalytically informed scholar today has the benefit of advances in psychoanalytic knowledge since Peter Gay’s major biography 30 years ago that help us to understand Freud more fully than he has been understood previously. Understanding Freud better is highly relevant to how we understand what Freud got right – and what he got wrong – when he created psychoanalysis.

The advances in psychoanalytic knowledge that Whitebook brings to his study of Freud have to do with the greater recognition of the importance of the pre-Oedipal stage of psychological development in psychic life. Freud emphasized the centrality of the Oedipus complex in structuring the mind, and in their enthralment with Freud the generation of analysts who came after him did so as well despite important insights into the pre-Oedipal period by pioneering theorists like Winnicott, Klein, Mahler and Kohut. But in recent decades there has been the so-called pre-Oedipal turn, which arose from analysts recognizing that Oedipal formulations were insufficient for making sense of the “widened-scope” patients whom they were seeing in increasing numbers in their offices.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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