87 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2004
Dr Yalom's novel is set in Vienna at the end of the 19th century, on the eve of the birth of psychoanalysis. The main characters are the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Dr Joseph Bauer, one of the founders of psychoanalysis, and a then young (the year is 1882) medical intern called Sigmund Freud. As these protagonists discuss their ideas, preoccupations and frustrations, they create an original plot of a fictional relationship between an exceptional analysand and a talented analyst. As the fictional dialogue between Breuer and Nietzsche unfolds, the reader becomes aware of the fact that at this epoch it must have been the first time that a doctor realised that what mattered is not what a patient said but that he said it. These were truly the first steps towards psychotherapy. Breuer's task was not made easy by Nietzsche's character. His social fears and his misanthropy made him select an impersonal and distant style. His tone was often harsh and brittle, particularly when he talked about his deceptive lover, Lou Salomé, a woman Nietzsche actually met in the spring of 1882. The unpleasant experience he had with this one and only love affair made him resentful towards women. He felt that they corrupted and spoiled him, he avoided them because he thought that he was ill suited for them. This partly explains Nietzsche's total isolation, his feeling of belonging nowhere, having no lover, no circle of friends, no home, no family hearth, his life sounding like a hollow echo.
A wonderful achievement showing sad and troubled characters in an intriguing cross-discussion of philosophy and emerging psychotherapy, yet as gripping to read as a detective story.
106 of 113 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the most intellectually stimulating, personally relevant, important books I have ever read. What a rare treat Yalom has given the world. That being said, this book may not be for everyone (but what is?). In many ways, I feel as if this novel was written just for me, and I feel sure that many other readers likewise come away feeling the book was written especially for them. Do you have to know Nietzsche in order to enjoy this book? You do not, but it will certainly appeal to you more if you do. I approached this book purely as a Nietzsche admirer, and I worried that my favorite philosopher might be portrayed poorly or unacceptably in its pages. In fact, he was not. No one can say whether this fictional treatment of Nietzsche is a true depiction of this great man, but it really does not matter. The importance of this book comes not through the descriptions of its characters, but from the meaning you as an individual take from its themes. These themes are grand and universal, the themes that Nietzsche addressed in his factual life--the meaning of life, fear of aging and death, each person's place in society, and both aloneness and loneliness. Everyone knows these themes, the emotions they stir up, the doubts they employ as daily hurdles on the living of one's life, the truly cosmic loneliness that each individual knows and combats at some point or points in his/her life. Not everyone can face these challenges or even acknowledge them; those who cannot will do well to stay away from this book.
What a joy it is to read a truly intellectually challenging work in these modern times. Don't read this book to be entertained. Read this book to seek understanding of life and your place in it. I cannot stress enough how personal the message of this book seems to be. In the final pages, Nietzsche revealed to Dr. Breuer his one great fear, and that fear was my own great fear, expressed in words that described it better than I ever could. I had to put the book down momentarily and just say "My God . . ." That gave this book incredible meaning for me. I should say that I did not come away overjoyed or overly burdened from the experience of finishing the book, but I certainly came away more in tune with my own thoughts and my own philosophy, challenged to remain steadfast in my own intellectual thoughts and pursuits, and buoyed (yet not elated) to know that at least one other person on earth has knowledge of the intellectual and emotional struggles that I sometimes resigned myself to believe were solely my own.
Please, do not start reading this book unless and until you are ready to devote yourself to it and to yourself. The first few chapters are not gripping and do not really offer a visionary glimpse of the meaning and magic of the book. The early conversations, particularly between Nietzsche and Breuer, are sometimes rather stilted and "phony." Do not be discouraged in the early stages of the read because intellectual stimulation and personal challenge await you soon thereafter, and I believe that you will find yourself hard pressed to stop reading until the very end. More importantly, the book will remain with you even after you have placed it back on the shelf. That is the greatest praise that a novel can be given.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2014
"When Nietzsche Wept" by Irvin D. Yalom is an interesting book that plays with the fact that the famous doctor Josef Breuer from Vienna and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche lived at the same time and by the author they are combined in an unusual way of putting them in the patient-physician relationship.
Besides the two of them, the third main character is Lou Andreas-Salomé, who combined both their professions, since in her tumultuous life except literature she dealt with psychoanalysis.
The author, an American psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom , wrote an interesting book which not only speaks about this unusual meeting of two famous people (who never actually happened), but also provides a clear image of the time and society in which the action is happening, Europe in late 19th century.
The plot of the book is located in Vienna, where Friedrich Nietzsche is living, suffering from depression and suicidal thinking, in part due to his relationship with Lou Andreas-Salomé, which is anything but ordinary.
Salomé is a person who isn't burdened with conventions and therefore was in a relationship with many known and unknown people of that time, such as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.
Therefore Nietzsche will start confiding to Breuer, and doctor would advise him to try himself solving his obsessions related to Salomé, actually hoping that conversation itself would be helpful for the philosopher enabling him to get better.
Gradually, as the action will progress slowly, clearly defined roles of patient and doctor will start slowly disappearing, gradually blending into each other and no longer is clear who is who and in which role...
Yalom was able to write this novel due to the apparent knowledge of not only the people he writes about, but also about the time in which the action is happening.
In this way, he created a novel that won't be only interesting for fans of these two famous historical figures, but also to all those who love psychology and have been prone to the analysis of their own and other people's actions.
While reading many times the reader will easily recognize that this novel was written by a professional in the field of psychology, but the author made it great switching alternately from the perspective of one character to another so that the story of each of them look convincing, as if they were written by different person.
But apart from the psychoanalytic part, which is excellently designed, this novel is also an excellent historical fiction because although there is no record that meeting of these people actually happened, novel faithfully shows society and thoughts characteristic for that time, because aside from meeting, all or almost all written inside is based on real facts.
In the end, what makes this book recommended is the fact that although it tackles a different time and people, it speaks about the things that we all encounter today, the questions that we seek answers , and errors that we do every day , unable to accept some obvious facts.
Don't expect to find in this book, as Nietzsche is present, answers about the essence, the meaning of life and the purpose of existence, but almost certainly you will eventually ask themselves some philosophical questions...
Therefore, "When Nietzsche Wept" is an interesting book that shouldn't be missed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A marvellous chance to visit Vienna in 1882 and meet Josef Breuer, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Lou Salome and many other famous historical figures as they live their everyday lives and interact. Dr Yalom's research is meticulous and detailed, giving us the clearest view of how his characters dressed, spoke, travelled and worked. It is dangerously easy to fall into the trap of imagining that in the 19th century everything was dry, dusty, boring, old-fashioned; a novel like this is the best possible antidote, as it brings the people and their problems into vivid focus.
This is particularly true as regards the roots of psychoanalysis, long before its various competing schools lost flexibility and became petrified in their teachings. Instead, Dr Yalom reveals a group of men struggling to understand their own motives, passions, and behaviour, at a time of abrupt paradigm change when it seemed vitally important to replace outworn religious ethics with a new humanist outlook that would fit in with Darwinism. Indeed, in his note "On Writing a Teaching Novel", he explains that Freud could not bring himself to read Nietzsche because the latter's ideas were so similar to his own that he felt dangerously close to plagiarism. He even admitted that Schopenhauer and Nietzsche had so completely anticipated his theory of repression that only his ignorance of their work allowed him to make a great discovery!
When reading Nietzsche, it is easy to think of him as a prophetic voice, a great teacher or leader, almost superhuman in his detachment. Yet in reality he felt deeply, desperately feared losing his independence and autonomy, had a sharp eye for power relationships, and suffered dreadfully from illness, lack of sleep, and migraines. It is quite amazing that anyone should produce anything of value under such awful circumstances, let alone Nietzsche's towering oeuvre. The personal qualities that emerge from the book include an utter refusal to believe in altruism, a deep acceptance of despair ("All serious thinkers contemplate suicide. It's a comfort that helps us get through the night"), and a staggeringly brave determination to forge a new morality to replace the old ones born of superstition. Without the slightest trace of pride, he declares that science and the discovery of truth are supremely stressful tasks that only the very strong can endure. Thus, the most important question for any would-be thinker is, "How much truth can I stand?"
It would be hard to finish this novel without feeling deep sympathy and admiration for Nietzsche, and getting a far better perspective on his books and philosophy. At first the thought may occur that he would fare better in today's world, but on further reflection one is struck by how little people's ideas and beliefs have really changed. Even in the 21st century, Nietzsche would still appear as a man from the distant future, from a world that has shaken off all the illusions, superstitions, and comfortable falsehoods that we still nurse.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
In all honesty, I give this book just short of 4 stars. It is an excellent book and well worth reading. And like the 2007 film adaptation, it's as equally fascinating and flawed.
The film in comparison is flawed in that it attempts to squeeze an awful lot into a 100 minute running time. The book is flawed in that what it has in insight, it lacks in literary style and voice. The characters of Nietzsche and Breuer become little more than mouthpieces of psychology and analysis in action. Of course, that is a strong part of the book, but it sacrifices any real shading to the characters and neither of them has their own independent voice outside of the author's.
Another minor flaw (tackled as clumsily in the film adaptation) is a very important hypnosis scene. I won't go into details here and spoil the narrative, but where as in the film it feels a 'cop out', in the book it borders on almost dismissive. Again, this is down to Yalom's cut and dried (almost naive?) style of exposition.
And yet, despite these flaw, the book is a gripping read. The real joy comes in unravelling the obsessions (thus fears) of both protagonists, and in turn, your own self. In fact, there's very little in this book you cannot identify with and graced with moments of genuine emotion that moved this reader to tears more than once.
In a strange way, the film and the book are almost companion pieces. One succeeds where the other falls, and it is to Yalom's credit that, despite the flaws, his book is a genuinely moving account of friendship, reclaiming the self and 'amor fati'.
An ideal book for those feeling lost in their own lives or having just emerged from a broken relationship. Excellent, but like I said, give the film a try as well...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 May 2009
Let me say this first, this book is not for the young reader; it is quite heavy on the philosophy front. However, having read Thus Spoke Zarathustra, this book makes Nietzsche's ideas much more accessible than the original source.
The story traces the origins of psychoanalisis as we follow Josef Breuer's treatment of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche assisted by his young friend and protegé, Sigmund Freud.
Alas, Nietzsche is reluctant to enter into medical care, the only way for treatment to take place is an unusual arrangement, Breuer will treat Nietzsche's illness and in exchange, Nietzsche will treat Breuer's obsession with a former patient through philosophical discourse.
I read this book during a time in my life when all I had were questions. Surprisingly, the book proved to be a great insight into Nietzsche's even to this day controversial way of thinking, but not for that less relevant or valid, and a great help to figure things out for myself.
A recommended reading.
on 27 February 2011
When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom is not the kind of novel I normally read. It was selected for reading by a book reading group. It turned out to be a reading that I enjoyed but above all I was intrigued by the novel.
The novel belongs to that ever more emerging genre known as faction - defined by The Concise Oxford Dictionary as: "a book, film, etc. using real events as the basis for a fictional narrative or dramatization." Think of most of those awful bio-pictures that are churned out by Hollywood and you have got the picture. However, When Nietzsche Wept is certainly not awful. Instead, what the reader gets from Yalom is an intriguing psychological thriller, and a novel of ideas delineated through two real characters namely Josef Breuer and Friedrich Nietzsche.
The novel is set in late nineteenth century Vienna, specifically focusing on the year 1882. The action takes place against a backdrop of a fin de siecle that saw the likes of not just the two protagonists but also Sigmund Frued among others. It was a period that saw significant development in medicine, the emergence of psychoanalysis and a new moral philosophy that focused on the individual. In the novel, Yalom invest his two main characters with a common facet namely two middle aged men obsessed with a much younger woman. In Nietzsche's case it Lou Salome and for Breuer it is Bertha Pappenheim. I suppose inevitably this obsession leads both men to suffer angst. Lou Salome from a sense of guilt or fulfilling her own desire meets the physician Breuer and comes up with a scheme to refer Nietzsche to him for treatment. Breuer and Nietzsche eventually meet and through a long process of negotiation and connivance a tacit agreement is reached that Breuer will treat Nietzsche's ailments but the table is turned and Nietzsche finds himself counselling Breuer. This sets the scene for a very good psychological or preferably intellectual thriller.
Out of this conundrum, Yalom's novel presents a world of intrigue, fascinating characters and multi-layered themes. Just to mention some of the obvious themes to be found in the novel. It is about friendship, the methodological relationship between patient and doctor, the frailty and vulnerability of human beings, the development of medicine and psychoanalysis, and above all it delineates Nietzsche's individual moral philosophy.
Along with Nietzsche, Breuer and Freud, Yalom's novel is peopled with, or at least there is discussion of, geniuses such as Brahams, Bruckner, Wittgenstein, and Wagner. However, it must be said that female characters are not well presented in this novel they merely act as antagonist providing a means for the plot to progress. Yalom's characters function in a world of change and invention yet ironically in some ways they still remain in a world averse to change and bridled by old conventions. Lou Salome's adversity to marriage and her acknowledgement of what Viennese society would think of the menage a trios between her Paul Ree and Nietzsche is testimony to the tension between old and new society.
What makes When Nietzsche Wept outstanding is the relationship between Nietzsche and Breuer. This relationship provides a means for discussing some of Nietzsche's ideas. Here are two examples, Nietzsche's view of truth: "Truth is arrived at through disbelief and skepticism, not through a child like wishing something was so" and "Dying is hard. I've always felt the final reward of the dead is to die no more." I found discussion of such ideas stimulating and thought provoking.
Having said that, on a downside, at times in the novel, reading about such intellectual ideas became sluggish. In other words, the narrative felt stuck as in places Yalom seems to have had difficulties in progressing the discussion of ideas between Breuer and Nietzsche.
Yalom's novel is not a highly imaginative piece of fiction after all it is faction. Nonetheless it is a well conceived novel with a well delivered story. For a novel that I would not normally read it nonetheless turned out to be a good and worthwhile read.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2004
Having just finished this amazing book I feel compeled to add a line. It has been a long time since a book took over my whole and outmost interest. I just had to make up time to read it. Now that its finished I feel sad as If I miss a great friend. I reccomend it to all, especially MEN...
on 23 August 2013
What if Josef Breuer, one of the early exponents of talk therapy (or psychoanalysis) was able to engage with Friederich Nietzsche? Set this imagined relationship in nineteenth century Vienna, throw in a young medical doctor in training, Sigmund Freud. Mix in philosophy, intellectual discussion and dream sequences, treatment and an array of interesting characters. The result is a very European novel asking the reader to engage in the thought process as the narrative and plot builds in layers as each protagonist's motivation and morality is exposed. Flawed men of their period but in Josef Breur a humanist of outstanding ability. Mr Yalom is a gifted writer and I will certainly read more by him. Four stars? Because there were parts of the novel that became a treatise for psychoanalysis and without the insight of its malignancy. For example it was another tool where misogyny appears to be un unquestioned premise of treatment.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 October 2009
Firstly, let me say that this is not an easy novel to write. It's a complex historical detective story of the mind (a brilliant but damaged mind) set in the realm of psychotherapy and psychiatry.
Clearly the author is a highly intelligent man and is in fact a Professor of Psychiatry, Palo Alto, California.
Author's, of course, often write about their own experience or expertise (Lance Black's Direct Action is drawn from his own experience of crime and the criminal law); indeed what else are they qualified to write about? and Yalom clearly has a lot to say about the unconscious/subconscious mind, the messages contained in dreams, pschosomatic illnesses and the benefits of 'chimney-sweeping'.
Dr Breuer is the main character in the novel and he is engaged to assist Nietzche with his plethora of medical problems. Nietzche only agrees to be treated after Breuer requests him to treat him with philosophy for some of his own issues: fear of death, lusting after nubile female patients etc. What ensues is a very gripping conversation between two educated men. This exchange is a joy to read, and as you might expect it exposes the basic human need for sex, family, friendship etc and how these things are hard to find and easy to lose.
Commercially the book succeeds. I ordered all Yalom's books on Amazon after I read this one, including the very worthy Schopenhauer Cure (a great read but with flaws similar to When Nietzsche Wept).
Here are the flaws...
Rewriting fact as fiction - the movie of this book (filmed in Bulgaria) states that the characters and events are fictional etc...this is clearly false. Breuer, Nietzsche, Freud and Salome were all real people and herein lies a major problem: Nietzsche did not find solace and redemption in the arms of a friendly psychiatrist. He went mad, weeping at man's cruelty to helpless creatures, a horse; and not over a lost lover. It is also believed that he suffered with syphillis (as did many others) and not just migraines. Re-writing history, even for fun, is always going to make suspension of disbelief difficult because the reader will (should) know the facts.
Sentimentality and pop-psychiatry - Yalom writes well, sensually, of sumptuousness; every meal of Breuer's is like a feast at the table of Dionysus: apple strudles, bratwursts, fine wines and cigars are omnipresent in an orgy of luxurious living: all well and good, but I did not like the corny abbreviation of Freud's first name to be 'Siggy' or the fact that we had to be told out loud that he was 'young Doctor Sigmund Freud'. In fact using Freud as a character at all was a step to far.
Perhaps it is the publisher with an eye on the American/Dan Brownian audience that insists on happy endings, corny characters and sentimental twaddle - but for me it degrades a serious novel.
Overall though this is excellent popular fiction and it is a million light years ahead of most of the trash that outsells it by thousands!
A first class read for anyone interested in a novel based around philosophy and psychotherapy! JP :)