three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
By: 
Deirdre Bair
user_rating: 
0

A Biography

A-JungCarl Gustav Jung wrote about flying saucers and astrology. He coined the terms "New Age", "animus," and "the age of Aquarius." He was arrogant and held morally questionable values. These credentials may seem a little dubious for the founder of analytical psychology, but Bair swathes Jung's accomplishments in a complimentary light. Starting with his childhood occultism, Bair charts Jung's professional development, treatment of luminaries including Herman Hesse, and break with Sigmund Freud in 1913 over the latter's sexual theories. She also acquits this German Romantic of his misogynist and anti-Semitic reputation. Yet despite his great influence at the time, Jung left a mixed legacy after his death in 1961.
Little, Brown. 881 pages. $35.

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Bair's gift is her capacity to sort through an immense amount of scholarship, interviews and abstruse psychological treatises to get at the craggy heights and depths of this person. ... Bair's biography will stand as the most comprehensive and disinterested of the biographies produced over the four decades since his death." James Hollis

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Her biography is the best life of Jung we have, by far, and, with a pair of cavils, probably the best we have any right to expect. ... She freely discusses his credulity concerning flying saucers, devotes a whole chapter to friendships that went awry, and does not shrink from his philistine position on modern art and literature." Peter Gay

NY Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[I]t is unlikely that another biography can ever equal this in its scrupulousness and the depth of its research. ... Perhaps to justify her work's thoroughness and the years she spent writing this book, Ms. Bair tries valiantly to make Jung sympathetic. In the end it's a losing proposition." Dinitia Smith

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Bair has unearthed fascinating new material about Jung's role as 'Agent 488,' briefing the Office of Strategic Services' spy-recruiter Allen W. Dulles on the psychology of Nazi leaders. ... Painstakingly fair, she digs up and scrutinizes sources with an admirable, if sometimes exhausting, thoroughness." Robert S. Boynton

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"But if [the reader's] interest isn't already in place, this book, on an enigmatic figure, who truly needs more deep discussion, will probably be something of a disappointment." Mark Edmundson

SF Chronicle 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Anyone interested in a month-to-month and often day-to-day recounting of Jung's sometimes interesting, sometimes drearily trivial professional and personal activities will find this a very useful volume. ... Bair has somehow managed to write a biography of a deep and influential man of ideas without actually getting any of his ideas into the book." Troy Jollimore

Critical Summary

Bair, award-winning author of books on Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Anais Nin, wrote Jung with the aid of the psychoanalyst's family. She gained access to all of Jung's professional papers, but not the personal ones, including diaries or letters to his wife. With this plethora of information she has produced a judicious, sympathetic, slightly academic, and, above all, comprehensive portrait of Jung's life. This thoroughness comes at a cost. By focusing on the details of Jung's life, Bair fails to explore the interaction between his career trajectory and ideas. Yet as a "definitive" account of his life, Jung "will be praised by scholars, read by the general public and loathed by the partisans, just as a good biography should be" (New York Times Book Review).