Member Reviews

I found all parts of this book interesting, but it did read as parts rather than a story with an even flow throughout. Anna O’s backstory, Breuer and Freud’s bromance, the author’s father’s background, the author’s autobiography, a history and development of FND were all fascinating to me and were worth reading.

Thanks to NetGalley and PublicAffairs for an ARC of this book.

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In this complex book about science, psychology, and history, Gabriel Brownstein explores the life, health, and history of Bertha Pappenheim and her connections to a modern illness, FND, which medical professions are still trying to understand and treat. Using history in conversation with modern medical science, Brownstein alternates between Pappenheim and people alive today to try and understand the nature of FND and how medical professionals treat those with complex illnesses, both then and now. With so many factors at play, this book juggles them all brilliantly to create a series of case studies about FND to inform readers in the know and those just learning of the disease. Brownstein’s prose style is straightforward and engaging, and he focuses on building readers’ understanding through Pappenheim’s life and diagnosis over a century ago and through more recent cases from the twenty-first century, all while humanizing the subjects of study. Striking a difficult balance between history and memoir as well as multiple centuries, this is a complex, often sad, but interesting read for those interested in medicine and the history of science and mental health. Brownstein’s book provides an interesting and accessible avenue into the subject and FND for readers with his commitment to research and education.

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This was a really well done novel, it had everything that I was looking for in a nonfiction book. The overall concept worked with what I was expecting and enjoyed. I thought it was a unique take on Freud and left me wanting to read more like this. Gabriel Brownstein has a great writing style and can’t wait for more.

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I thought many aspects of this subject were interesting, especially as I had not studied psychology or Freud in any depth before. (To people who have, those parts might seem like old news.)
Where this book worked was in showing how the old diagnosis of "hysteria" could be a few different things, but mostly lines up with a diagnosis today called "FND" (Functional Neurological Disorder). We meet several patients, doctors, and activists who deal with this disorder in the modern world, and learn about how support for the diagnosis has changed over the past decade or so.
The character in the title, Bertha Pappenheim, also seemed like an intriguing character - especially later in life, when she became an activist in her own right - but the book only spends some of its time talking about her. And some of that is pure conjecture, even.
Which brings me to the problem with this book: it tries to be a lot of different things. We start by meeting the author's dad shortly before his own death. He gives the author his research on the topic, and later, the author chooses to try to dig around and see what his dad was going on about. The author interweaves the stories of his own life at the time, stories of Pappenheim and her work with Freud and his mentor, what was going on in the worlds these characters lived in (ideas prevalent in medicine and psychology, prejudices against Jewish people, etc.), and research and stories of people dealing with FND now. And while there are technically sections and chapters - he honestly goes back and forth between all of these frequently.
If anything, this book taught me about a disorder I had never heard of before. In today's world, where we are shedding more light on mental health and how it overlaps with physical health, I think reading things of that nature is worthwhile.
But beyond that, this book is a struggle.

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This book was really an eye opener.How this author tied things together from the past and the future.And Tied it all together in a really nice bundle. It starts out in 1870 V I e n u a What a woman named BE t.H.APA PPE They mentioned FRPU. D. Was treating This woman for hysterical. His name for her was annie o. It starts out in the in the present with this.Professor who talked mirrored science and he died and his family were going through his papers. They tied this case from the past to the modern times and how these women are suffering and they do not know what to do with them. B e t h a was jewish and she had a very interesting history behind him. They talked about the LO class Jewish people. Sent their daughters into prostitution. Or into marriage. They also talked about the plugs and how they were being prosecuted. Germany was a very interesting thing at this time. BE THA Was trying to help these women by starting groups so they could talk about it and get help. It was a very interesting book and everybody had a say in it but this is real. I could not imagine people not taking this seriously because they were suffering. She never married because she felt she could do more for that cause. She also suffered from this too.And it was very hard in the old days because science was just starting to come around

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As I read this book, I tried to do so with an understanding that the author had pieced this book together during a time in his life that was filled with loss and grief. The author Gabriel Brownstein becomes enraptured by the life of Bertha Pappenheim due to the interest of his late father. As he comes to terms with the recent loss in his life, he weaves this book through his personal memories and information about the life of Bertha.

While reading this book, I felt as though the chapters about the author’s personal life were the strongest. These passages were filled with emotion as the author reflects on life’s fragility and the suddenness of death. As the author recounts the history of individuals struggling with medical diagnoses, there seems to be common thread of people being told their physical symptoms are ‘in their head’ . The life of Bertha, who’s life was filled with men such as Freud and Breuer, was filled with sickness and mental health struggles. Bertha is perhaps one of their first individuals that was examined by the medical world so publicly. Her symptoms, which seemed to defy explanation, brought awareness to how trauma causes physical symptoms. This book was filled with detailed accounts of Bertha’s life during the birth of psychological treatments that were tried with people. While reading this book, the reader can tell the author compiled a great amount of research to this subject.

However, the academic portions of the book ran for long times and seemed disconnected from the memoir portions of the book. The way the book was structured was not as fluid as I would have liked. Just as reader starts to connect emotionally with the author, the reader is swept along to another long chunk of historical facts and excerpts.

I would recommend this book to those who are studying the early approaches of psychological treatments or the life of Bertha Pappenheim. The author provides a lot of areas that one could delve into with more comprehensive research. It also provides a modern perspective on woman’s psychological health and the continued pattern of individuals being abandoned by the medical field when their symptoms cannot be explained.

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This book was written in a very strange way. I did not like the way the story was laid out. For a book that promotes itself to be a quasi biography I find the use of the word "I" to be highly inappropriate. There is no use for such a word in this type of book. I am not interested in reading about "you" (being the author) I am interested in the subject so I really don't care what you feel and posit and guess with no evidence to back it up. Instead it should have been marketed as a personal dive into a topic because his father shared an intellectual interest in the subject. Because that is what this is. It is paramount when writing a biography that the reader believes that the author is a certain authority on the topic. Either through academic credentials or through the breadth and quality of the research. I did not believe that this author really knew anything about what he was writing about. Much of the book read like a textbook with large swashes of it being literal direct quotes from a cacophony of other people. In the end the story felt like a rather feeble and pathetic attempt to understand Bertha Pappenheim without a whole lot of actual effort taken to do so. Instead the book is really about Josef Breuer and his work with Bertha Pappenheim and his disjointed connection to Freud. And then thrown it at the most random of times were the disjointed clunky discussions of modern science that felt like they had no bearing at all on the conversation at hand. I understand the author had lost his father and his father was interested in the subject of Bertha Pappenheim. But that is not a good enough reason to write a book. This book was God-awful. Instead of the convoluted way that the story was laid out it should have followed this structure: 1) a discussion of the work that Breuer did with Pappenheim and how the use of talk therapy came to be, 2) how Freud standardized the use of talk therapy and popularized the discipline of psychoanalysis with it, 3) how Pappenheim was able to turn her life around after her time with Breuer and the work she did later in life, 4) a discussion about some of the afflictions that plagued Pappenheim and how those same afflictions are treated by doctors today to show how far (or not far medicine has come, and 5) how this exploration of Pappenheim and Freud personally helped the author feel close to his late father. Telling the story that way moving from one topic to the next to the next would have made for a better narrative whereas the haphazard way it is actually relayed where we move from a discussion of Freud in 1899 to a woman in 2010 leaves the reader confused and frustrated. But ultimately I don't believe the author was attempting to truly write a narrative story. The way this story is approached leaves me convinced that this was a personal endeavor meant to feel closer to his father. For his sake I hope he at least achieved that endeavor because the attempt to write a coherent story has so disastrously missed the mark.

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"The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim" takes us on a fascinating journey into the life of Bertha Pappenheim, also known as Anna O, who inspired Freud's psychoanalysis. The book goes beyond just a biography to question whether her "hysteria" was actually FND (functional neurological disorder). What I truly loved about this book was how the author effortlessly connects the past with the present. By sharing his own experiences and the stories of current FND patients, the author creates a powerful narrative that resonates deeply. However, I have to admit there were moments when the book switched between narrative nonfiction and academic writing. The parts that focused on storytelling were gripping and captivating, while the academic sections felt dull. Nonetheless, the book sheds an important light on FND, a DSM disorder that I wasn't even aware of, and includes real-life stories that add authenticity.
(Just a word of advice: having a basic understanding of Freudian theory will definitely help when reading this book!)
If you are at all interested in the history of psychiatry/psychology, psychoanalysis, or Freud, I suggest picking this one up in April!

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