MH@H Book Reviews

Book Review: Introducing the Freud Wars: A Graphic Guide

Introducing the Freud Wars: A Graphic Guide by Stephen Wilson, with illustrations by Oscar Zarate, is part of the Introducing… series. I’ve previously reviewed two books in the series, Introducing Evolutionary Psychology and Introducing Psychology. I was expecting this book to humorous, given the topic, the cover art, and the other books in the series that I’d read, but it… well, it just wasn’t.

I did learn a few new things; for one, I hadn’t known that Freud developed jaw cancer from all those cigars and eventually had a large part of his lower jaw removed. Overall, though, there wasn’t a lot of new information.

One thing that struck me as odd was that the author took issue with both Freud and his critics, although he was more negative towards Freud’s critics. Based on some Google searching, it appears that the author is a psychoanalytic therapist, which makes it clearer where he was coming from. In the book, the concerns he raises about Freud are less about psychoanalysis and more along the lines of: “With his familiar capacity for pushing a good idea too far, Freud comes close to obscuring his own insight in an unconvincing programme of interpretative gymnastics.”

Freud’s fixation on the Oedipus complex idea is odd, to say the least. While the author doesn’t seem to be totally on board, he’s still swimming fairly close to the ship: “There is empirical evidence which suggests that the Oedipus complex exists and is a pervasive feature of human development. [Oediupus’s mother] (and Freud) were right: men do dream and always have dreamt both of incest and patricide.”

Unlike the other books in the series that I read, in this book, the cartoons contain integral parts of the text. Reading the Kindle edition on my laptop, the text in the cartoons was fairly dense and rather small, so it was hard to read. I think it would have worked better if the integral text was put in the text, and key bits were highlighted in the cartoons.

I was expecting a light, fun book that looked at some of the weirdness that is Freud (from penis envy to the Oedipus complex to penis therapy for hysteria, there’s a lot of weird material to work with). This book was not that. I’m not actually sure who the target audience would be, because I can’t imagine that many people who are wanting to look at Freud in this way would be looking for this format of book. Maybe they’re just hoping to get by on the book cover alone.

Introducing the Freud Wars: A Graphic Guide is available on Amazon, and is free through Prime Reading (at least in Canada). Unlike Kindle Unlimited (which I’m too cheap to pay for), Prime Reading is free for anyone with a basic Prime membership. You can find it under the Kindle books section of the main menu.

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: Introducing the Freud Wars: A Graphic Guide”

  1. We had read that Freud realized much childhood trauma and resulting complexes arose from incest and non-family childhood sexual abuse. But rather than advance that thesis, Freud downplayed it because advancing it would have exposed many elite families in Vienna.

    If true, this is a real setback for children’s rights and safety. Imagine a world in which childhood sexual abuse was exposed as a public health crisis and the next 100 years were spent protecting children.

    The book sounds uninteresting compared to the others in the series. We asked our library to acquire introducing evolutionary psychology that you reviewed but learned today that they denied our request—no reason given.

    1. Oh that’s frustrating about the library.

      Freud was an odd duck. Seduction theory was part of his early work, and it sounds like he blamed all adult neuroses on repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. This book says that at one point, Freud concluded that the reason for his siblings’ neuroses must have been that their father molested them. Later, he decided that the Oedipus complex created incest fantasies.

      I’m just looking at the Wikipedia article on The Freudian Coverup, which was first proposed at a radical feminist conference in the 1970s, arguing that he switch from seduction theory to the Oedipus complex was for the reasons you mentioned.

      Given that basically everything Freud talked about related to sex in some way, and seduction theory was never balanced and reasonable in the first place, the coverup idea sounds a bit fishy to explain something that already seems explainable by the evolution of Freud’s ideas.

  2. I had also heard what wediditptsd said about Freud coming up with the Oedipus complex because his original findings about widespread child abuse were disbelieved. I wonder how true that is.

    It’s easy to dismiss Freud’s ideas as unscientific, misogynistic and sometimes plain weird, and that’s often true. But he was a major pioneer of both the fields of psychiatry and psychology and had the non-obvious and important insight that many mental illnesses can be treated, or at least alleviated, just by listening to sufferers non-judgementally. Bear in mind that many of Freud’s patients were middle class women who were probably not allowed to express their views on many topics outside of therapy, and that this was in a general medical context where treatment was usually about the doctor being at the top of the treatment hierarchy and the patient at the bottom just doing what they were told, not the patient talking while the doctor listens.

    1. There was definitely good that came out of his work. It’s hard to ignore the weirdness, though. He was also pretty all or nothing. Whether it was seduction theory saying that all neuroses were caused by childhood sexual abuse by father, or later relating all hysteria to penis envy, it sounds like he would get enthusiastic about ideas and then slot all of his patients into those boxes. He listened, but he did a lot of weird interpreting and theorizing based on that listening, and also based some of his work on self-analysis of his own dreams, which seems like pretty shaky ground.

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