The best Sigmund Freud books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Sigmund Freud and why they recommend each book.

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

By Anita Loos,

Book cover of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

This novel is hilarious. When I first read it, I was jealous that I hadn't written itwhich is a silly feeling to have about a book that came out in the 1920s, I admit. It's a diary written by a blonde showgirl named Lorelei Lee, who uses her feminine wiles to get wealth from the gentlemen callers who want to "educate" her. Loralei isn't very smartthe diary is riddled with misspellings and confused assumptionsbut she has a kind of innocence and practicality that keeps you rooting for her throughout. With her friend Dorothy, a brunette, she arranges it so that everything always works out in her favor, which usually includes lots and lots of diamond jewelry. 


Who am I?

My novel, Right Back Where We Started From, is about greed. I wanted to see what it would look like if women in history pursued their goals with the same relentless intensity as the men who came to the California Gold Rush. I love reading about social climbing because ambition is so baked into the fabric of the United States, and is such a big part of our lives. The books on this list are unafraid to show you the ugly, unpleasant side of ambition—and the exciting, captivating side as well. 


I wrote...

Right Back Where We Started From

By Joy Lanzendorfer,

Book cover of Right Back Where We Started From

What is my book about?

Sandra Sanborn believes she's destined to become rich and famous. Success, she feels, is in her blood, and it's only a matter of time before she restores her family name to a place of prominence. But when pesky secrets start revealing themselves, Sandra begins to suspect that her family history is not what she thinks it is. This sweeping saga about greed and ambition covers three generations of strong women and a hundred years of history, from the California Gold Rush to World War II. 

Freud

By Philip Rieff,

Book cover of Freud: The Mind of the Moralist

This is a very good, fair, smart, early interpretation of Freudian psychoanalysis in general, and of its significance for culture and intellectual history in particular. It’s very well written, probably because Susan Sontag (Rieff’s wife at the time) is widely reported to have actually written the book, and in the 1960s the book became highly influential. It is easily Rieff’s best book. 


Who am I?

I am a professor of philosophy and editor or author of 12 books. I started out in ‘Freud Studies’ in the 1990s with no agenda, just a deep interest in Freud’s ideas. Since then I’ve written quite a lot on it. Unfortunately, the field is so contentious, so overrun with books by former patients and analysts, that casual readers couldn’t possibly make heads or tails of it. Readers are best served by reading complete works of Freud and making their own assessments. After that, they can look at Freud’s voluminous and eye-opening correspondence with colleagues. Then they can consult good books, and lists of recommended works, that put them in the right direction.


I wrote...

The Late Sigmund Freud: Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life

By Todd Dufresne,

Book cover of The Late Sigmund Freud: Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life

What is my book about?

The Late Sigmund Freud is one of very few book-length accountings of the “late” or “cultural”  Freud of 1920-1939. This is shocking because the works of this period, such as Civilization & Its Discontents, are actually among Freud’s most famous. Dufresne attempts to understand the so-called ‘sociological’ Freud in its own terms, relate it to the broader socio-intellectual context of Freud’s time, and assess Freud’s conscious attempt to provide the ‘last word’ on the meaning of his theory and practice of psychoanalysis.  

The Memory Wars

By Frederick Crews,

Book cover of The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute

This well-written, tightly-argued little book of 1995 gathers together four feature articles from The New York Review of Books that together represent a watershed moment in ‘Freud Studies.’ For here was the NYRB, a long-standing bastion of psychoanalysis, publishing splashy articles that functioned like a Hollywood expose of Freud’s failings as a man, thinker, and therapist. In truth, Crews was simply giving voice to a ‘revisionist’ portrait of Freud that started in earnest in the wake of Jones’s three-volume ‘life and work’ of Freud (1953-57). Best of all: Crews connects it all to the ‘recovered memory’ movement of the 1980s and 90s, thereby drawing a  disturbing portrait of Freud’s legacy.  


Who am I?

I am a professor of philosophy and editor or author of 12 books. I started out in ‘Freud Studies’ in the 1990s with no agenda, just a deep interest in Freud’s ideas. Since then I’ve written quite a lot on it. Unfortunately, the field is so contentious, so overrun with books by former patients and analysts, that casual readers couldn’t possibly make heads or tails of it. Readers are best served by reading complete works of Freud and making their own assessments. After that, they can look at Freud’s voluminous and eye-opening correspondence with colleagues. Then they can consult good books, and lists of recommended works, that put them in the right direction.


I wrote...

The Late Sigmund Freud: Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life

By Todd Dufresne,

Book cover of The Late Sigmund Freud: Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life

What is my book about?

The Late Sigmund Freud is one of very few book-length accountings of the “late” or “cultural”  Freud of 1920-1939. This is shocking because the works of this period, such as Civilization & Its Discontents, are actually among Freud’s most famous. Dufresne attempts to understand the so-called ‘sociological’ Freud in its own terms, relate it to the broader socio-intellectual context of Freud’s time, and assess Freud’s conscious attempt to provide the ‘last word’ on the meaning of his theory and practice of psychoanalysis.  

Hideous Kinky

By Esther Freud,

Book cover of Hideous Kinky

There have been droves of books written by beatniks, hippies, non-conformists and bohemians, but far fewer by their children. Their offspring experienced the trials and tribulations of having parents on quests for flower power enlightenment. I have an inside-out interest in this, because my father (the Sufi writer Idries Shah) was one of the people everyone seemed to be making a beeline for in the swinging ’sixties just as I was being born. Of all the books by the children born or raised in the Age of Aquarius, Hideous Kinky stands out by far as the most beguiling. I absolutely adore the way Esther Freud reveals the tale, gently and evenly, and with a voice that’s as sweet as the Winter oranges on Morocco’s trees.


Who am I?

Tahir Shah has spent his professional life searching for the hidden underbelly of lands through which he travels. In doing so he often uncovers layers of life that most other writers hardly even realise exist. With a world-wide following, Tahir’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages, in hundreds of editions. His documentaries have been screened on National Geographic TV, The History Channel, Channel 4, and in cinemas the world over. The son of the writer and thinker Idries Shah, Tahir was born into a prominent Anglo-Afghan family, and seeks to bridge East with West through his work.


I wrote...

Travels with Nasrudin

By Tahir Shah,

Book cover of Travels with Nasrudin

What is my book about?

The wise fool of Oriental folklore, Nasrudin is known across a vast swathe of the globe – from Morocco in the west, to Indonesia in the east. Appearing under different names and in all manner of guises, he’s universally admired for his back-to-front brand of genius – so much so that at least a dozen countries insist he was one of them. Tahir Shah explores this figure while examining his life, his travel, and his thoughts.

The Writer's Voice

By A. Alvarez,

Book cover of The Writer's Voice

Talking of voice, finding your writer’s voice lies in the confidence that comes from effort and application. Alvarez was a poet, writer, critic, and poetry editor at The Observer newspaper in the 1960s, where he nourished the writing of Sylvia Plath and others. When you think of your favourite writers it’s usually their voice that grabs and sustains interest and trying to figure out your own, as a writer, can take time. Playing with other voices, trying them on for size, making one your own, is something Alvarez explores through his own insights about the work of Plath, Yeats, Jean Rhys, Freud, and others.


Why this topic?

Where do writers go for distraction? For me it’s usually into the work of other writers and, when I’m done escaping into fiction, I turn to nonfiction and particularly those writers who write about writing. Why? Because it helps refresh my own writing to read those writing with clarity, insight, and coherence when my own process is in danger of fragmenting. What’s more, many writers write so well about the components of writing - voice, structure, narrative or even something as prosaic as getting started - that I am reassured about what I’m trying to do with my own writing.


I wrote...

Write Every Day: Daily Practice to Kickstart Your Creative Writing

By Harriet Griffey,

Book cover of Write Every Day: Daily Practice to Kickstart Your Creative Writing

What is my book about?

As a published writer, but also an ex-publisher, tutor with the Creative Writing Consultancy and writing retreats facilitator, I have been asked for advice about writing and getting published for years. This book encapsulates what might be helpful and rests on the premise that writing is accomplished by the writing itself. That is, to become a writer you have to write - not necessarily every single day, but a writing practice demands that you write.

That said, the book provides an overview on some of the component parts of writing that both novice and even established writers might find useful, for example, voice, narrative, plot and structure, character, dialogue, point of view, and place. It also covers different forms of writing from fiction to nonfiction, prose, poetry, and memoir, plus that all-important insider information about finding an agent or a publisher if your ultimate aim is to get published.

Otto Rank

By Esther Menaker,

Book cover of Otto Rank: A Rediscovered Legacy

This book summarizes the contributions of Otto Rank, the brilliant and influential psychoanalyst. Rank focused on two core psychological motivations, the desires for psychological security on the one hand, and for stimulation, growth, and creativity on the other. His work illuminates how these desires often work in concert but also often can be in opposition over the course of the lifespan, contributing to guilt, anxiety, and stunting growth. Rank’s analysis inspired the development of both existential psychology and humanistic psychology. Rank’s approach to psychological well-being is based on accepting and even affirming the limitations of life, understanding what you really want in life, and developing the will to move creatively toward achieving those goals so that one can live an authentic and satisfying life.   


Who am I?

I am a Regents Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. Ever since I was a child growing up in the South Bronx, I have been interested in why people are so driven to believe they are right and good, and why there is so much prejudice in the world. This has led to me to a lifelong exploration of the basic motivations that guide people’s actions, and how these motivations influence how people view themselves and others, and the goals they pursue.


I wrote...

The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

By Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski

Book cover of The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

What is my book about?

This book presents the co-authors’ ground-breaking psychological research, which shows how the awareness of our mortality influences human action and how cultures keep fear of death at bay by providing worldviews that infuse our lives with order, stability, purpose, and significance, allowing us to pursue our goals without becoming overwhelmed by the knowledge of our ultimate fate. But our efforts to maintain our worldview and be significant contributor to it lead to personal, interpersonal, and societal problems. The Worm at the Core offers ways we can better come to terms with death and lead lives of courage, creativity, and compassion. The reader will come away with a new way of understanding human evolution, child development, history, religion, prejudice, art, science, mental health, war, and politics in the twenty-first century. 

Freudian Repression

By Michael Billig,

Book cover of Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious

Sigmund Freud tends to be lampooned these days as a cartoonish patriarch, but psychoanalysis is one of the few genuinely insightful theories that tries to understand why people frequently do things they can’t explain, don’t understand, or don’t even want to do. Social psychologist Michael Billig’s book starts out by noting that Freud considered his greatest discovery to be not the unconscious (as most people think), but repression – the series of activities that produce the unconscious. The book is a clearly-written, practical exploration of how repression is accomplished in day-to-day life. An example: “Each time adults tell a child how to speak politely, they are indicating how to speak rudely”. Think about that.


Who am I?

I am an anthropologist who has written or edited more than a dozen books on topics that range from the lives of trans sex workers, to the anthropology of fat. I have conducted extensive fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and Scandinavia. I work at Uppsala University in Sweden, where I am a Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology, and where I direct a research program titled Engaging Vulnerability.


I wrote...

A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea

By Don Kulick,

Book cover of A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea

What is my book about?

As a young anthropologist thirty years ago, I traveled to a remote village in Papua New Guinea to try to understand why a language dies. I went to Papua New Guinea because, with over 800 different languages, that little country is the most linguistically diverse place on the planet. The people in the village I ended up living in spoke a language unrelated to any other; one that had only ever been spoken by about 100 people.

This is the story of my life in that village, called Gapun. It is a story of how I kept returning, and over the years became inextricably implicated in the villagers’ destiny. It is the story of the impact that Western culture has had on the farthest reaches of the globe, and how I came to realize that the death of a language is about a great deal more than language.

Psychoanalysis

By Janet Malcolm,

Book cover of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession

Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis have cast a long shadow over our understanding of the human mind. Most research psychologists today find Freud’s ideas to be oversimplified, exaggerated, or simply wrong. It is important to understand his legacy, however, and there is no better way to do so than to read this entertaining, gossipy book about psychoanalytic theory and treatment. Malcolm provides a rare peek into the consulting room of the psychoanalyst, with insightful critiques of the practice and theory of psychoanalysis. What is Freud’s legacy, exactly? I discuss that in Strangers to Ourselves, in a chapter entitled, “Freud’s genius, Freud’s myopia.”

Who am I?

Like most adolescents, I was deeply concerned with what others thought of me and how I fit in. Unlike most adolescents, I sometimes did little experiments to test others’ reactions--such as lying down on a busy sidewalk, fully awake, to see how passersby would react (mostly with annoyance). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is an entire discipline--social psychology--that does real experiments on self-knowledge and social behavior. I got a Ph.D. in social psychology at the University of Michigan and have spent my career as a professor at the University of Virginia, where I have had great fun conducting such experiments.


I wrote...

Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

By Timothy D. Wilson,

Book cover of Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

What is my book about?

“Know thyself,” a precept as old as Socrates, is still good advice. But is introspection the best path to self-knowledge? What are we trying to discover, anyway? 

In an eye-opening tour of the unconscious, as psychological science has redefined it, Strangers to Ourselves introduces us to a hidden mental world of judgments, feelings, and motives. Because we have no direct access to the workings of our minds, Wilson tells us, we develop plausible stories about ourselves that may be out of touch with our adaptive unconscious. Citing evidence that too much introspection can actually do damage, Wilson makes the case for better ways of discovering who we truly are. 

Ideas

By Peter Watson,

Book cover of Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud

History isn’t just “what happened.” Trillions of things happened. History is about the patterns to be found among those trillions of facts. Getting at such patterns means following deep themes, and what could be deeper than ideas? Watson explores when, where, how, and why significant ideas emerged in history, how ideas led to more ideas, to inventions, to cultural changes…we witness the emergence of a soul as a concept, we’re there to see Freud construct his tripartite model of the human psyche… Every idea is part of a thread and this book is woven of many threads. 


Who am I?

Tamim Ansary is the son of an Afghan father and an American mother.  As a writer, growing up in Afghanistan and growing old in America has drawn him to issues that arise from cultural confusion in zones where civilizations overlap. His books include histories and memoirs, which he considers two sides of the same coin: a memoir is history seen up close, history is memoir seen from a distance.  Much of his work explores how perspective shapes perceptions of reality—a central theme of his best-known book, Destiny Disrupted, A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes.


I wrote...

The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection

By Tamim Ansary,

Book cover of The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection

What is my book about?

The Invention of Yesterday is a birds’-eye view of world history from the perspective of the emerging global “we”. It follows our journey from the Stone Age to the Virtual Age, from the tens of thousands of tiny bands of relatives we were 50,000 years ago, to the single intertangled spaghetti of human lives that we are today, all of us shouting at once. What were the stages of this drama; what were its pivotal moments, what drove the story, how did one thing connect to another, where might this all be going, and now that we are so interconnected, how come we’re still fighting? 

Violence and the Sacred

By René Girard, Patrick Gregory (translator),

Book cover of Violence and the Sacred

This is one of the classics in the field. I choose it not because I agree with all of it but because it has made such an impact and has such an ardent academic following. Girard picks up a thesis propounded by Sigmund Freud that symbolic expressions of violence in religion (the eating of Christ’s body and blood in the ritual of the eucharist, for example) helps to defuse real acts of violence. Girard regards mimesis—the imitation of the desires of a competitor—as the driving force behind violence and the instrument that is tamed through symbolic expressions. 


Who am I?

Though religious violence is an odd obsession for a nice guy like me, the topic was forced on me. Having lived for years in the Indian Punjab, I was struck by the uprising of Sikhs in the 1980s. I wanted to know why, and what religion had to do with it. These could have been my own students. It is easy to understand why bad people do bad things, but why do good people—often with religious visions of peace—employ such savage acts of violence? This is the question that has propelled me through a half-dozen books, including the recent When God Stops Fighting: How Religious Violence Ends. 


I wrote...

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

By Mark Juergensmeyer,

Book cover of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

What is my book about?

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (University of California Press). Now in its 4th edition, this is only one of many books on religious violence that I have written, but it’s the one that endures. It is based on my conversations with militants in every religious tradition—from Islam and Judaism to Buddhism and Christianity--and tries to get inside their worldviews. It explores the idea of terrorism as performance violence, and probes the role that religious images of cosmic war play in contemporary struggles from ISIS to the Christian right.

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