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Freud and Boas: Secular Rabbis?
Vienna Gaon; Tsaddik of Morningside Heights

- Abstract

We are too enlightened these days to admit that we want a picture or a poem (or even a novel) to tell us a story, but non-fiction remains an enclave where the reader is still Caliph. The biographer in particular is greeted with a brusque “None of your fancy art or style, now, don’t bother placing the subject or discussing his ideas, just tell me what sort of man he was. Was he like me?”

Here are recent biographies of two men who have substantially reshaped our world, and the degree to which they are personal is exactly defined by their subtitles: the Freud, “The Formative Years and the Great Discoveries,” about half; the Boas, “The Science of Man in the Making,” not at all. Ernest Jones, the dean of living Freudian analysts, has written what appears from this first volume to be one of the great biographies, a perfect blend of devotion and objectivity, with a dash of suppressed hostility to give it tartness. Jones is the only person outside the family who has seen Freud’s love letters, which he uses richly but with basic good taste; he knows how the historic case of “Miss Anna O” came out because Breuer told Freud and Freud told him (she worked up a false pregnancy by Breuer, causing treatment to be abruptly terminated, and ended as a social worker); he is not beyond a few sly psychoanalytic interpretations of his own.

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