Freud: A Life for Our Time

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Freud: A Life for Our Time
Freud- A Life for Our Time (1988 edition).jpg
The first edition
Author Peter Gay
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Biography
Published 1988 (J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd)
Media type Print
Pages 810 (1995 edition)
ISBN 0-333-48638-2 (1995 edition)

Freud: A Life for Our Time is a 1988 biography of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud by historian Peter Gay, who draws on new material that has become available since the publication of Ernest Jones' The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud.[1] The book has been criticized by several authors skeptical of psychoanalysis, but has also been praised.


A best-selling book, Freud: A Life for Our Time has been widely translated.[2] However, it has been criticized by several writers skeptical of psychoanalysis.[3][1][4] Allen Esterson has identified it as one of several works that uncritically repeat Freud's account of how his early clinical experiences led to the creation of psychoanalysis. Esterson argues that this account, in which Freud's patients reported to him that they had been sexually abused in early childhood, and Freud subsequently realized that in most cases these assaults were phantasies rather than real events, is false.[3]

Cultural historian Richard Webster writes in his Why Freud Was Wrong (1995) that while Freud: A Life for Our Time is presented an objective exercise in historical scholarship, and considers the failings of psychoanalysis and investigate Freud's mistakes, it nonetheless retains a reverent attitude toward Freud, preserving the myths about Freud created by previous biographers. He calls these myths the "Freud legend". He believes that the acclaim the book received shows the persistence of the Freud legend, noting that with exceptions such as Peter Swales, many reviewers praised it, especially in Britain. He sees its appeal to supporters of psychoanalysis as being its favorable view of Freudian ideas.[1]

Social and cultural theorist Todd Dufresne writes that Gay's book has a "reverential" attitude to psychoanalysis, noting that critics have objected that it reports as fact claims that have long been known to be mistaken, including details concerning the treatment of Freud's patient Anna O.[4]

The work received a more favorable reception from philosopher Richard Wollheim, who calls it "magisterial" and "of exceptional interest". Wollheim writes that Gay's biography invites comparison with Ernest Jones's The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1953). He observes that while Gay, unlike Jones, did not suffer from the limitation of being able to write only what Anna Freud found acceptable, his freedom as a scholar was nevertheless restricted by the policies of the Freud Archives. Gay, in contrast to Jones, tries to integrate Freud's life and thought, including only as much of Freud's thought as necessary to understand his life.[5]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Webster 2005. pp. 27-28.
  2. ^ Norton 2014.
  3. ^ a b Esterson 1993. pp. 11-12.
  4. ^ a b Dufresne 2007. p. 166.
  5. ^ Wollheim 1991. pp. xxi-xxii.


  • Dufresne, Todd (2007). Against Freud. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-5548-1. 
  • Esterson, Allen (1993). Seductive Mirage: An Exploration of the Work of Sigmund Freud. Peru, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8126-9231-4. 
  • Webster, Richard (2005). Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. Oxford: The Orwell Press. ISBN 0-9515922-5-4. 
  • Wollheim, Richard (1991). Freud. London: FontanaPress. ISBN 0-00-686223-3. 
Online articles