Cover Image: The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim

The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim

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Member Reviews

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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