The Memory Wars

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The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute
The Memory Wars.jpg
Cover of the first edition, featuring an illustration by David Levine
Author Frederick Crews, et al.
Country United States
Language English
Subjects Sigmund Freud
Recovered-memory therapy
Publisher The New York Review of Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 299
ISBN 978-0940322073

The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute is a 1995 book that reprints articles by the critic Frederick Crews critical of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and recovered-memory therapy. It also reprints letters from Harold P. Blum, Marcia Cavell, Morris Eagle, Matthew Erdelyi, Allen Esterson, Robert R. Holt, James Hopkins, Lester Luborsky, David D. Olds, Mortimer Ostow, Bernard L. Pacella, Herbert S. Peyser, Charlotte Krause Prozan, Theresa Reid, James L. Rice, Jean Schimek, and Marian Tolpin.

The book had a mixed reception. Some commentators credited Crews with discrediting Freud's theories, but others criticized him for failing to resolve the issues he explored. The articles by Crews reprinted in the book have been seen as turning points in the popular reception of Freud and psychoanalysis.


The Memory Wars reprints essays and letters about Sigmund Freud and recovered-memory therapy that first appeared in The New York Review of Books. In addition to Crews, the contributors include Harold P. Blum, Marcia Cavell, Morris Eagle, Matthew Erdelyi, Allen Esterson, Robert R. Holt, James Hopkins, Lester Luborsky, David D. Olds, Mortimer Ostow, Bernard L. Pacella, Herbert S. Peyser, Charlotte Krause Prozan, Theresa Reid, James L. Rice, Jean Schimek, and Marian Tolpin.[1]

Crews writes that his initial purpose in writing the book reviews included in The Memory Wars was to explain how recent scholarship had changed understanding of Freud and psychoanalysis. He adds that he expected one of his articles would be controversial. The article was published under the title "The Unknown Freud", and was followed by "The Revenge of the Repressed".[2]

Publication history[edit]

The Memory Wars was published in 1995 by The New York Review of Books.[3]


Mainstream media[edit]

The Memory Wars received a positive review from Nicci Gerrard in New Statesman,[4] mixed reviews from Laura Miller in and Elizabeth Gleick in Time magazine,[5][6] and a negative review from the anthropologist Marilyn Ivy in The Nation.[7] The book was also reviewed by Genevieve Stuttaford in Publishers Weekly,[8] Richard Webster in The Times Literary Supplement,[9] the biographer Paul Ferris in The Spectator,[10] and by The Economist.[11] In The New York Times Book Review, the book received a mixed review from Vivian Dent and was also reviewed by Sarah Boxer.[12][13]

Gerrard wrote that Crews discredited Freud.[4] Miller compared the book to "an online discussion". She described Crews's discussion of recovered memory therapy as "scathing" and praised his style of writing. She credited Crews with supporting his objections to Freud's personal qualities and theories empirically with careful research, but also wrote that Crews's work could seem crankish and obsessive. She observed that scientific debate about repression could continue interminably, like an internet "flame war". She wrote that while Crews argued that the major premises of psychoanalysis are unsupported by scientific data, it was debatable how "coolly quantifiable" study of the mind and the emotions could be. She suggested that Freud's view of memory made for a "better story" than that of Crews and argued that Crews did not explain why Freud's views often felt as though they were true.[5]

Gleick considered The Memory Wars an "impressive dissection of Freud and the recovered memory movement". However, while she wrote that, "Crews demolishes Freud neatly, and his insistence that we rely on empirical evidence is perfectly reasonable", she added that "such evidence often does not exist when it comes to the emotional realm" or where "long-ago child abuse" was concerned. She also suggested that because he considered Freud a charlatan and rejected psychoanalysis, Crews had to "dismiss the more interesting questions: What do our society's obsessions with child abuse, or Satanic rituals, or aliens, really mean?"[6]

Ivy described the New York Review essays that Crews reprinted as "cranky", and criticized Crews for oversimplifying the issues involved in the debates over recovered memory and sexual abuse, and failing to account for the social context that made the concern with ritual abuse possible. Ivy considered Crews's claim that psychoanalysis is unscientific familiar and unoriginal and wrote that his, "valorization of science makes him uncomfortable indeed with ambiguity, not to mention undecidability."[7]

Dent wrote that The Memory Wars "provides an example of how people can absorb volumes of identical evidence without changing utterly divergent opinions". While she wrote that the book raised issues "vital to an appraisal of contemporary psychotherapy", such as the reliability of memory, the validity of the concept of repression, and the effects of therapies aimed at recovering memories, "true dialogue on these questions never emerges", and that the book "the book presents a mass of conflicting statements" from experts.[12]

Scientific and academic journals[edit]

The Memory Wars received a negative review from Brett Kahr in Psychoanalytic Studies.[14] The book was also reviewed by Peter L. Rudnytsky in American Imago.[15]

Kahr called the book a "vicious piece of rhetoric" and argued that Crews's arguments against psychoanalysis were based on "scant solid data" and employed "the most purple prose I have read in many years". He also accused Crews of ignorance.[14]

Evaluations in books[edit]

Webster, writing in Why Freud Was Wrong (1995), described The Memory Wars as one of the most trenchant and significant contributions to the debate on recovered memory therapy.[16] The philosopher Todd Dufresne, writing in his anthology Against Freud (2007), suggested that The Memory Wars may be the book for which Crews is best known, and that the articles Crews reprinted were turning points in the popular reception of Freud and psychoanalysis.[17] José Brunner, writing in his introduction to the 2003 edition of the philosopher Ernest Gellner's The Psychoanalytic Movement, described "The Unknown Freud" as the opening salvo in the "Freud Wars", a long-running debate over Freud's reputation, work and impact.[18] Ritchie Robertson, writing in his introduction to Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, described The Memory Wars as representing "the more polemical version of anti-Freudian criticism". The philosopher Jonathan Lear responded to Crews in an article published in Open Minded: Working out the Logic of the Soul (1998).[19]

The psychologist Louis Breger, writing in Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision (2000), described Crews as one of Freud's most dismissive critics. Breger considered some of Crews' points valuable, but maintained that Crews, like other critics of Freud, too frequently jumps "from valid criticisms of some part of Freud's work to a condemnation of the whole."[20]



  1. ^ Crews 1995, pp. iii, ix, xiii, 3–4.
  2. ^ Crews 1995, pp. 3–4.
  3. ^ Crews 1995, p. iv.
  4. ^ a b Gerrard 1997, p. 46.
  5. ^ a b Miller 1995.
  6. ^ a b Gleick 1997, p. 44.
  7. ^ a b Ivy 1995, pp. 832–836.
  8. ^ Stuttaford 1995, p. 72.
  9. ^ Webster 1997, p. 10.
  10. ^ Ferris 1997, p. 49.
  11. ^ The Economist 1995, pp. 14–15.
  12. ^ a b Dent 1995, p. 56.
  13. ^ Boxer 1997, p. 12.
  14. ^ a b Kahr 1999, pp. 454–455.
  15. ^ Rudnytsky 1999, p. 285.
  16. ^ Webster 2005, p. 528.
  17. ^ Dufresne 2007, p. 70.
  18. ^ Brunner 2003, p. xxii.
  19. ^ Robertson 1999, p. xxx.
  20. ^ Breger 2000, p. 377.


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  • Dent, Vivan (1995). "The memory wars (Book Review)". The New York Times Book Review (November 12, 1995).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Ferris, Paul (1997). "A flawed prophet". The Spectator. 278 (8813).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Gerrard, Nicci (1997). "Demolition job". New Statesman. 126 (4337).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Gleick, Elizabeth (1997). "All in the head". Time. 150 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Ivy, Marilyn (1995). "Memory, Silence and Satan". The Nation. 261 (2).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Kahr, Brett (1999). "The Memory Wars (Book)". Psychoanalytic Studies. 1 (4).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Rudnytsky, Peter L. (1999). "Wrecking Crews". American Imago. 56 (3).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Stuttaford, Genevieve (1995). "Wrecking Crews". Publishers Weekly. 242 (41).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Webster, Richard (1997). "The bewildered visionary". The Times Literary Supplement (4911).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • "The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute / Wittgenstein Reads Freud / A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis". The Economist. 337 (7945). 1995.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
Online articles