Winner of the 2007 Gradiva Award
An innovative work of biography that traces the lasting impact of the friendship between Sigmund Freud and pioneering American psychologist James Jackson Putnam.
In 1909 Sigmund Freud made his only visit to America, which included a trip to "Putnam Camp”–the eminent American psychologist James Jackson Putnam's family retreat in the Adirondacks. "Of all the things that I have experienced in America, this is by far the most amazing," Freud wrote of Putnam Camp. Putnam, a Boston Unitarian, and Freud, a Viennese Jew, came from opposite worlds, cherished polarized ambitions, and promoted seemingly irreconcilable visions of human nature–and yet they struck up an unusually fruitful collaboration. Putnam's unimpeachable reputation played a crucial role in legitimizing the psychoanalytic movement. By the time of Putnam's death in 1918, psychoanalysis had been launched in America, where–in large part thanks to the influence of Putnam, and in a development Freud had not anticipated–it went on to become a practice that moved beyond the vicissitudes of desire to cultivate the growth and spiritual aspirations of the individual as a whole.
Putnam Camp reveals details of Putnam's and Freud's personal lives that have never been fully explored before, including the crucial role Putnam's muse, Susan Blow–founder of America's first kindergarten, pioneering educator and philosopher in the American Hegelian movement–played in the intense debate between these two great thinkers. As the great-grandson of Putnam, author George Prochnik had access to a wealth of personal firsthand material from the Putnam family–as well as from the James and Emerson families–all of which contribute to a new and intimate vision of the texture of daily life at a moment when America was undergoing a cultural and intellectual renaissance.
This delightfully written, erudite book intertwines the lives and works of Freud and Putnam, along with cultural and intellectual movements of the time, such as Progressivism, spiritualism, transcendentalism and American Hegelianism.
The great-grandson of James Jackson Putnam explores the relationship between his ancestor and Freud, as revealed in family archives, in published correspondence and other writings by the principals and in existing biographies and commentaries.
Prochnik offers a dazzling serving of bold personalities, brilliant ideas and highly unlikely situations that changed the scope of American science.
For a study of the roots of a heavy intellectual topic, Putnam Camp is delightfully spry and often funny. Prochnik is in uncommonly fine form describing how Freud, Jung and Ferenczi reacted with equal shock and wonder to America, particularly the exotica of New York City's Chinatown and Coney Island.
This author's ability to weave a richly compelling and thoroughly human dimension into a complex tale makes Putnam Camp something of a literary rarity: a scientific history that is actually fun to read.
Bookforum, Michael Roth
In Putnam Camp, Prochnik has found a compelling way to connect a specific moment of the past to our more general cultural history. His book can serve readers well who want to consider the contemporary potential of the intersecting legacies of Freudian stoicism and American social hope.
The Weekly Standard, Edwin M. Yoder Jr.
Putnam Camp is...a revealing chronicle of cross-cultural polarities: Boston and Vienna, Jew and Gentile, American and European, sexuality and transcendence. It is also a story of the mechanics of intellectual transmission and, with the exception of an occasional runaway sentence, well told.
The New York Times Book Review
In Putnam Camp, George Prochnik approaches the encounter between Old World and New through Freud's relationship with James Jackson Putnam.
Prochnik, Putnam's great-grandson and himself a former mental health counselor, relies on his "opposing parts" — his father's family were Viennese Jews — and his access to a cache of Putnam family correspondence to add texture to the already well-chronicled story of Freud's visit and its consequences.
Nathan G. Hale’s Freud and the Americans (1971) remains the definitive study of psychoanalysis' conquest of America. But if Prochnik adds few new facts, he is an engaging companion on a stroll through quaint surroundings.
The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, Larry Kramer
I cannot overstate how important I believe this book to be....the revolutionary material Prochnik has uncovered--stuff I have never seen, read, or heard about--is that Freud had no trouble with homosexuality....and that he did not mind fantasies that he knew to be homoerotic, and that he himself had such fantasies, including on this particular tripwith Jung himself.
I couldn't put this book down, but after doing so it took me three days and evenings to absorb it.