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Papernik, D.S. (1989). Acts of Will. The Life and Work of Otto Rank: By E. James Lieberman, M.D. New York: The Free Press, 1984. 485 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 58:662-666.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 58:662-666

Acts of Will. The Life and Work of Otto Rank: By E. James Lieberman, M.D. New York: The Free Press, 1984. 485 pp.

Review by:
Daniel S. Papernik

This is a thoughtful and stimulating biography of Otto Rank. Lieberman sensitively traces his subject's life from his youth to his death on October 31, 1939, at the age of fifty-five, a little over one month after the death of Sigmund Freud. He utilizes Rank's unpublished diaries and correspondence, as well as interviews with family members, patients, students, and other contemporaries. While the scholarship cannot be faulted, at times Lieberman sets up a straw man in his attack upon classical psychoanalysis. The device is unnecessary and diminishes an otherwise excellent study. Fortunately, the author gives the reader sufficient data so that conclusions different from his can be reached.

According to a childhood friend, Rank was particularly close to his mother. His father was an alcoholic Jewish locksmith. Rank was born Otto Rosenfeld in 1884. He had an older brother, and there had been a sister who had died just a few months after her birth. His brother was given an academic education and eventually became an attorney, while Otto was sent to a technical school. At age nineteen, he adopted the name, Rank, after a character in Ibsen's A Doll's House, and he changed his official religious registration to "unaffiliated." In the spring of 1905, he met Sigmund Freud, bringing along an introduction from his physician, Alfred Adler, and his own manuscript, The Artist. Freud and Rank established a relationship which lasted two decades and, according to Lieberman, was the closest professional relationship either man had. At their introduction, Freud was forty-nine and Rank twenty-one.

In 1906, Rank became the salaried secretary of the Wednesday Psychological Society, which was to become the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. In 1908, he graduated from Gymnasium and entered the University of Vienna to pursue a doctorate. At this time he formalized his adopted name and converted to Catholicism. He converted back to Judaism before his marriage. Although Rank never denied his Jewish roots, Lieberman feels his change of name represented a separation from his family of origin and a self-redefinition. In his diary, Rank described his capacity for accommodation.

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