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on 30 May 2012
A friend who shares her reading opinions with me (and I with her) recommended this book to me. I thought it was fascinating and illuminating and couldn't put it down. The book deals with Julius, a psychotherapist, and his confrontation with his impending death, and with his last year with his intensive therapy group. I have since then started to read everything Irvin Yalom has written, which has moved me onto reading Schopenhaur and Nietzsche, which had the spin off effect of deciding to go into therapy!
I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in philosophy and psychotherapy.Yalom has an easy going way of melding both which draws the non professional into the group therapy situation and its human dramas.
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on 26 October 2009
I have to give this 5 stars simply because it's centred around my favourite thinker, the big S!
It's a sad indictment of contemporary literature that only 8 people have reviewed this book and Amazon UK don't even have it in stock.
Let me confess, in that time-honoured cliche, 'I could not put it down' and read it in 15 straight hours.
Schoppie is the star and it's always great to laugh at his misan'schopic' view of the world, although as another reviewer points out he was also a very positive fellow: he loved swimming, walking, animals; he was more disappointed than anything else with homo stultus.
Yalom dedicates every second chapter to the King of modern philosophy, and it was these I loved rather than the self-indulgent dolts who make up the rest of the cast; Julius the psychotherapist is truly pathetic.
Philip, the Schoppie clone, is hilarious as he walks out of one group session muttering 'enough wallowing the muck' which was very funny indeed.
As is pointed out elsewhere, it's a great shame Yalom had to pander to LCD reader by converting Philip into a weak-minded neurotic man-child instead of raising the rest of the group up to his deified vantage point, but that's the herd for you: the simple, insecure reader needs a happy reassuring conclusion.
One day Yalom with cut out the sentimental and the silly and he will become the inner superman he talks about and then he will be GREAT, rather than 'commercial'.
I note he is looking at Epicurus as a book subject - great idea!!
Lance Black has a philisophical therapist in Direct Action and she preaches the mantra of Epicurus: freedom in all things. This would be a fantastic novel, perhaps like Donna Tartt's Secret History (great read), with lot's of Ancient Greek wisdom and traditions...I'd forward order that! JP :)
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on 24 November 2014
I didn't mind it.

I had a number of problems. First off, Yalom is a psychiatrist. I don't like psychiatrists, especially ones who are bound by law and custom to force their patients to take some of the most harmful drugs in the entire pharmacopeia. I hope he's an autonomous practitioner, otherwise god knows what depths of depravity of this man has plumbed.

I also thought that the character of Julius was little more than a surrogate for the author, and a mouthpiece for his own worldview, through whom he could engage in a bit of narcissistic wish-fulfillment; the wise, optimistic psychiatrist, triumphing over the disciple of Schopenhauer, and thus Schopenhauer himself.

Which brings me onto another problem; to wit, his attitude towards Schopenhauer, which was sometimes a tad condescending, and at others a little hostile.

At the end of the book (and the ending was pretty bad, I thought), Philip, the disciple of Schopenhauer, is basically stumped when, on citing Schopenhauer's comment that basically none of the dead would choose to come back to life, everyone in the group says that they would choose life over death, as if this in anyway disproves Schopenhauer's view of life. Schopenhauer didn't deny that the average living person would choose life over death. As he points out in "The World as Will and Representation", man confuses his a priori will to live with an a posteriori love of life. The average man's love of life is not based on a weighing of the relative merits of being alive and being dead, but is simply a product of the will to live that constitutes the kernel of his being. Without the will to live, life would probably be little more than a suicidal orgy, at least for anyone other than a tiny minority of people upon whom life bestows it blessings, people who try to impose their vision of existence on the rest of us.

On top of this, because of the grim iconography associated with the subject of death, and because of man's fear of the unknown (under the force of which his love of life is largely extorted) and corresponding prepossession in favour of the familiar, it should occasion no surprise that man would choose life. Man, contrary to what we believe, is not a rational animal, and the line separating sanity from insanity runs not through human society, as psychiatrists and simple-minded naive realists would have us believe, but through the human mind, as so much research in social-psychology and cognitive-psychology has made abundantly clear.

It also must be borne in mind that minds in greater proximity to the animals from which we have descended, tend to be mercifully spared the intensity of suffering of men of more developed faculties, for whom the human mind is little more than an elaborate torture apparatus.

I disliked the character of Pam, as I dislike all her real-world referents. In the book she keeps on venting her poison on Schopenhauer and anyone who has the nerve to hate life. I believe Schopenhauer was right when he said that optimism is fundamentally wicked, a sinister mockery of the reality of human suffering. Such people occupy a similar moral status to apologists for torture, yet like all cheerleaders for evil and injustice, they think there is something about their position that confers moral distinction, partly because it allows them to revel in their hatred of the life-haters all the more. If life is cruel, absurd and unjust (as anyone other than those of a Panglossian cast of mind would surely agree), then it logically follows from this that it is worthy only of contempt.

People like Pam are the kind of people who, to borrow from Stuart Walton, upon seeing a woman being burnt at the stake, would simply comment on the aesthetically pleasing effect the lovely amber flames create against the night sky, people who always complain about works of art that are too morbid, even though it is such works of art that bring comfort to people undergoing severe distress. God she was annoying.

Another thing I didn't like was all the psychopathologizing of Schopenhauer's genius. One can locate this in a long and ignoble tradition in the mental health professions of treating genius as if it were some sort of symptom of a disease. Personally, I don't believe in mental diseases. Call me a denialist, but a mind can't be diseased in the same way that a bodily organ can, and there aren't mind-imaging studies capable of showing that someone's got mind-cancer or something (which of course, is not to say that the referent of the concept doesn't exist, but simply that something as airy as a mind can't be diseased).

Yalom, because he is for the most part in disagreement with Schopenhauer's conception of life, tries to dismiss his worldview as being the mere product of a diseased mindset. As any observer of the drama of human conflict can see, this is an expedient commonly resorted to in interpersonal scuffles. One of the fundamental differences between real diagnoses (that admit of ironclad proofs), and psychiatry's fake diagnoses (which rest on the authority and prestige of the diagnostician), is that, both in professional and common usage, the latter are used to denigrate the worldview of the person so diagnosed, which readers may want to keep in mind when reading the book.
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on 1 October 2009
I read some Schopenhauer 30 years ago, am interested in Buddhism and have been in group therapy. This book was fascinating from all these perspectives. At the beginning I felt it was 3 separate books but they came together at the end and the last half of the book was unputdownable - to me.
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on 23 May 2013
I have recommended it to several friends as well, and even though they are not therapists themselves they really enjoyed it.
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on 3 February 2010
I hate not finishing books, and this particular one was a gift, so I struggled my way through it, but I cringed all the way: I thought the dialogue was just atrocious - even more of a crime in a book to which conversation is so central -, every single one of the characters was a caricature, and the ending saccharine-sweet and not believable in the slightest. I hadn't read anything by Yalom before, and after this I don't think I will be.
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on 10 September 2007
If you happen to be of the opinion that:
a) Life is a pretty unpleasant experience, full of silly cravings, boredom and suffering;
b) This world really does not offer much comfort, rather resembling, as Hamlet would say, "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours" (and this was before humans were surrounded by factories and roads!);
c) Most (if not all) human beings you meet are not only incredibly dull but full of unrealistic opinions and expectations...

Well then, look no further, Yalom has got just the cure for you! (Not that you had thought you were ill, of course, but believe us, you are!) In his wonderfully enlightening novel you can learn all about your true ailment. However sane (and soothing) your ideas may appear to yourself, if they aren't upbeat and optimistic and full of hope, then oh dear, you are an antisocial character in urgent need of help!
Yalom offers a very easy solution for your anomaly: group therapy. All you have to do is expose yourself to hour-long superficial chattering sessions with a bunch of strangers about their private little expectations and frustrations (as if one didn't get enough of that day in and day out). This, the experienced psychiatrist turned novelist explains, will help you understand just how WRONG you are. Forget about centuries of wisdom - from Buddha through Aristotle to the infamous Schopenhauer - that might in any way support your endeavour to distance yourself from the banalities and pains of everyday life. After all, as Yalom will gladly prove to you, those great sages lived in the awful past, when there was poverty and hunger and toil and wars and violence and hatred and ignorance - things we have long overcome, as you have surely noticed (if not, you're obviously reading/watching questionable things). What you need is to appreciate the elevating powers of human contact: such as evenings spent with your pals in a crowded bar, drinking beers and discussing the Giants (metaphysical issues are so passé!); or ever exciting emotional involvements with people who just crave to give you some love (never mind what that's supposed to be).

The highly therapeutic way in which Yalom chooses to prove just how lonely one may end up being if one indulges in the slightest negative thoughts regarding the company of other bipeds is quite astonishing and does deserve some careful reading: by creating a highly antisocial, arrogant and detached character supposedly resembling a modern-day Schopenhauer, the author shows us step by step the uselessness of following that great philosopher's wise advice in order to make life (slightly) more bearable. Confronting this (quite superficial) Schopenhauer-like character with a wonderfully caring psychotherapist plus his entourage of regularly confused but life-loving patients, Yalom's novel actually provides a very good example of the power of group-enforced conformity. Indeed, in the hands of this helpful bunch of astonishingly appealing one-dimensional characters, our protagonist undergoes a great transformation, gradually distancing himself from the most down-to-earth, but alas unappetizing, teachings of his supposed master, Schopenhauer.
You see, that German philosopher really was a cranky chap. Reading Yalom's novel will in fact provide you with countless quotations from his works, as well as a pretty good overview of his life. Sure, he was a genius and influenced many other brains (such as Nietzsche, Cekhov, Freud, Thomas Mann). But Yalom concludes also that Schopenhauer was an unhappy human (as compared to the rest of us, apparently) who could have well used a heavy dose of therapy to cure him from his dreadful pessimism and socio-phobia! Unfortunately for him (but very fortunately for his readers/followers), the wonderful business of psychotherapy had still not been invented back then. So our friend the philosopher was doomed to content himself with thinking and writing.
We are only so lucky nowadays that we can resort to doctors as soon as the slightest feeling of spiritual discomfort sets in. And there's even rumour of an anti-pessimism pill being manufactured as we speak... Schopenhauer no more!

But just in case you are mad enough to actually want to hold on to your negative views (at your own risk!), I would strongly advise you to skip this book and go to the sources instead: Schopenhauer's "Counsels and Maxims" is not only a great introduction to his wise words, but just about indispensable for anyone interested in understanding the roots of our sufferings (and how to deal with them). And Rudiger Safranski's "Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy" will provide you with a much more accurate (and less judgemental) portrait of this amazingly realistic philosopher's life and influences.
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on 10 November 2013
As with Yalom's other novels, you learn a lot from this one - about Schopenhauer, about group therapy and perhaps especially about yourself - while being regally entertained. Highly recommended!
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VINE VOICEon 23 April 2010
I find Yalom's work utterly compelling, I'm not sure why. This book is a superb mix of a biographical account of the life of Schopenhauer, mixed up with the story of characters who meet regularly for group therapy. I love watching how the characters recreate their problems with life inside the therapy group, and the leader's elucidation of how it happens at different levels.

I was recently part of a three hour discussion group in a church, and I was intrigued by how I managed to recreate my problems with the world. It gave me that huge inkling of responsibility - I make it happen in my own wizard way. And thus I can translate, and get insights in to how I'm repeating unhealthy patterns in my relationships.

What Yalom does is make you feel that every detail in life is significant, and worthy of examination. Once you know what to look out for in groups, you can observe yourself and others with a fresh sense of curiosity and wonder.

The story made me think about some of my own experiences and remember details that I had forgotten, forcing me to re-evaluate. This is a rich text, challenging, entertaining and invigorating!
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on 10 May 2016
I'm very pleased with this purchase. Very good value for money.
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