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Solitude: A Return to the Self

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,753 ratings  ·  153 reviews
Originally published in 1988, Anthony Storr's enlightening meditation on the creative individual's need for solitude has become a classic.

Solitude was seminal in challenging the established belief that "interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, if not the only, source of human happiness." Indeed, most self-help literature still places relationships at
Paperback, 216 pages
Published October 3rd 2005 by Free Press (first published July 18th 1988)
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Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Some of these reviews disappoint the hell out of me in terms of their reflection of how some modern people tend to read books. One of the positive notes in a fairly positive review was that it's "quite validating." Is that a positive? Is that why we read books? To validate what we already feel?

Another reviewer called it discordant. It was not discordant--it eased itself back and forth between argumentative methods as it went along. Is that really too sophisticated of a technique? It seems pretty
Michael Perkins
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Kipling, P.G. Wodehouse, Graham Greene, Beethoven, Anne Sexton, Beatrice Potter, Goya----are a few examples in this book of how creative people benefitted from solitude.


"To foster the growth of the child’s imaginative capacity, we should ensure that our children, when they are old enough to enjoy it, are given time and opportunity for solitude. The capacity to be alone is one aspect of an inner security which can be built in the early years. Some children who enjoy the solitary exe
Jun 21, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a very solitary person – for example, I once went eight months without having any kind of conversation with anyone whether online or in person which is extreme (not really recommended) - naturally, this book interested me. Truthfully I was hoping, ideally, for something from this book that would click in me so that I would not desire or need any relationships with people because I can't seem to do them but yeah, no, that is not going to happen.

Anyway as it turned out, strangely enough, the bo
Apr 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The more we broadcast ourselves on a constant basis, the more we chip away at even the concept of solitude. Every meal you eat is a photo meant to be shared, every funny thought you have is a tweet being prepared for the hive mind.

Online communication isn't the same as making a material world connection - but neither is it the same as being alone. Solitude has been the basis for so much of my creative accomplishment (wonderful collaborative efforts notwithstanding). We need connection, and we a
In the flood of books in all fields about social behaviour, a book extolling the virtues of solitude stands out. Storr critiques the premise of much psychotherapy (esp attachment theory) that we need to be fixed so that we can have fulfilling social relationships and thereby be 'successful'. He argues that purpose and work and, importantly, the ability to be alone, are of equal value and uses creative people as examples.
Thus he says, "The capacity to form attachments on equal terms is considere
Jenn "JR"
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First, this book is magnificently structured. The quality of writing and clarity of concepts laid out from the preface to the last page is well organized and clear without being overly pedantic or repetitive. The author refers to concepts and goals of previous sections of the book - even mentions upcoming areas that will be addressed later - and it all just flows really nicely. Very tightly written book - it's only 202 pages (the rest are notes).

Second - this book does a really great job of talk
Aug 28, 2018 added it
Shelves: psychology
I don't know entirely where I stand on this. On the one hand, it features lots of lovely tidbits about how people have dealt with solitude, most of them miserable depressives. The whole thing is a defense of solitude as an essential component of well-being, written as it was at a time when interpersonal relationships were deemed to be of paramount importance, and long before lots of basement-dwelling assholes started claiming that their "introversion" was why they were assholes.

I mean, it is a p
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was such an excellent find...almost lost in the midst of the sidewalk sale at Second Story books in Dupont Circle. Dr. Storr is a psychiatrist as well as a talented writer and researcher. The book is full of fascinating biographical jewels on great minds like Kant, Newton, Henry James, Beatrix Potter, P.G. Wodehouse, Freud, Jung and many more. Storr's main premise is to challenge the predominant theory today that a well-balanced life revolves around deep, significant relationships. He does ...more
Dec 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Not even a dog I liked
Recommended to Karen by: online reviews
I was very disappointed in this book. It's description touted it as "a profoundly original exploration of solitude and its role in the lives of creative, fulfilled individuals". It was none of the above. Rather, it is the author's personal rebuttal to most of Freud's philosophy (which I could care less about). It was NOT an exploration of how solitude fueled creative minds, but a depressing litany of all the artists who were neglected, imprisoned, exiled, or institutionalized. While Storr could ...more
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: self-help
I love this book. I have read it a few times. It always makes me feel good and gives me new insight into things that are important to me. Maybe it is time to read it again.

The main message it holds is that a person can make their own satisfaction and happiness.
Santiago F. Moreno Solana
May 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I finished this book almost two weeks ago, I felt the essay constituted a great analysis worth reading, short but in many aspects dense and detailed, which answered many questions about my own self, someone who enjoys very much the pleasures of solitude and considers that both interpersonal relationships and solitude itself provide happiness, but who is also convinced that the hills of happiness which define solitude outshine and dazzle even the highest mountains of happiness which define i ...more
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
When I started this book, I did not realize the author was a renowned psychoanalyst. Had I known that, I doubt I'd have given it a try. I am, however, glad I read it. Storr's examination of the value of solitude and the role it plays in both creativity and the development and preservation of mental health embodies a warmth and humanity rarely found in psychoanalytic literature.

Storr argues convincingly that modern psychology and psychoanalytics place too much emphasis on the role of interperson
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is not one of those feel good, self help, make me feel okay with the world kind of books.

This piece of work is dense. It's a lot to chew. It's amazing.

These are just my thoughts after finishing the book, not really a review of the book itself.

Our culture tells us that one of the worst things that can happen to a person is to die alone. This is a blatant lie that many of us tend to believe. Working on the self is not placed at any importance and so while immature emotionally, mentally and sp
Apr 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychoanalysis
The summary of the book as written in the last chapter: "This book began with the observation that many highly creative people were predominantly solitary, but that it was nonsense to suppose that, because of this, they were necessarily unhappy or neurotic. Although man is a social being, who certainly needs interaction with others, there is considerable variation in the depth of the relationships which individuals form with each other. All human beings need interests as well as relationships; a ...more
Daniel G.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a now fairly old title that is well worth picking up nonetheless. Storr, an Oxford professor of psychology (a Jungian from what I can gather) discusses solitude, its benefits, some of its perils, and its basic impact on the human mind. For Storr, solitude is an important part of a healthy human life, though it plays different roles for different people. He pushes back quite a bit here on psychological systems that only emphasize the significance of relationships in psychological health, ...more
Amaan Cheval
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was so much better than I even expected it to be. Storr has put together a really comprehensive book representing different aspects of not only solitude, but also research on human well-being in general - the capacity to enjoy one's own company, the reasons forced isolation can wreak havoc on us, various theories on attachment and meaning, and dozens of glimpses into the lives of various interesting people throughout history (from psychologists to composers to scientists).
I think I've
Oussama Nakkal
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very perceptive book that can walk you through some unreachable inner places you've never knew they were there in your entire life. Some aspects about yourself you might be ignorant or oblivous of or just afraid to think about you will consider them definitely after reading this book, in the most blatant and spooky way. Using a very technically preceptive arsenal of theories from psychoanalists such as Freud, Jung and Winnicott, Storr gives you a relatable explanatory process of how you became ...more
Jackie St Hilaire
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-books
It's an uphill climb to the finish line.

Starting all over again is not easy. Where does one start?

The author as well as numerous philosophers and psychologists tell us that we should look to the place in our lives where our growth was challenged. For many it will be adolescence for others depending on their circumstances as early as childhood.

Returning to oneself is not always easy, you ask yourself questions like: "Where did I go wrong". "How come my life went in that direction?"

The author sugg
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was another one of those very well researched, very human studies about how solitude can help you, about how being alone allows us a chance to recover our true selves- the "I" that is hidden from the rest of the world. There are also many very concise summaries of psyches and solitude cravings from famous authors, suggesting that some creative people may thrive in solitude for it allows themselves a chance to collect their thoughts and express themselves, while being lost in an illusion of ...more
Sophy H
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

I really enjoyed this title. Despite my absolute consuming passion for reading, I have a very hard time spending time alone and sometimes struggle with solitude so I wanted to explore Storr's take on the fact that some people are better adapted and indeed seem inherently geared towards solitude.

His findings that creative and artist types are solitude seeking resonated with personal experience. I was interested to read how our childhoods and upbringing may affect our ability to be able
Joseph Boquiren
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
As an extreme introvert I picked up this book in the hopes of learning more about my peculiar eccentricity. Anthony Storr makes a good case that interpersonal relationships are not the only source of happiness. Many of the people listed in his book lived lives of solitude with the world being better off because of it. Isaac Newton, Solzhenitsyn, Kant, Wittgenstein, Beethoven, Kafka, etc. all labored in relative isolation and because of this their work continues to shape, inform and enrich our li ...more
Samantha Seaman
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A thoughtful defense of solitude. I especially liked the discussion that marriage/relationships are only one aspect of the realm of social relationships, and should not be viewed as necessary to be well-adjusted/normal/the only valid type of relationship. The book broke down how solitude is essential for meditation, creativity, innovation, and also addressed the darker sides, which he defined as grief, mental disorder, depression.
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
First half of the book is interesting and pretty good. But somewhere along the line the author goes off track and forgets his own topic. Second half of the book seems to be about everything else but solitude. It becomes dreadfully blabbering and boring before you reach the end. Almost not worth the read.
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a writer with a contemplative nature who is deeply embracing her love and need for huge swathes of solitude as never before, I was eager to read Anthony Storr’s book. I was drawn immediately after reading that “Solitude”, originally published in 1988, “was seminal in challenging the established belief that interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, if not the only source of human happiness.” In my experience, it is rare to find someone arguing that intimate relationships a ...more
Emily Kidd
Feb 27, 2021 rated it liked it
*This review will be a bit more “academic” due to the nature of the the book itself.*

The first few chapters of the book act more like a summary/critique of the pros and cons concerning various offshoots of Freudian psychoanalysis as it relates to a person’s interpersonal experiences. This was not my favorite part (even though I am generally fascinated by Freud).

Around chapter 8 the author finally moves into discussions on specific writers, which is what I’d been waiting for all along. Storr di
Melchor Moro-Oliveros
Apr 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: letti-2020
Ok, let’s go: I had doubts between 3 and 4 stars. I finally give it 3 (but be aware I mean 3,75 … :-) …). Here are my reasons: The book starts excellently, very promising, but it goes too much and too soon into single examples of famous personalities of fields of arts and science and it focuses too much on only one aspect of personality: creativity. As if creativity was the ultimate goal in the search for hapiness and fullfilness. Additionallty, it lacks on an clear conclusion (an unambiguous pe ...more
Amanda Moser
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
I found this a really lovely exploration of the acts of creativity and self discovery (and the value of such) that occur in solitude. Storr’s main hypothesis is “Intimate attachments are *a* hub around which a person’s life revolves, not necessarily *the* hub”.

This book was written in 1988 and its fascinating to think what new content a modern update might include. Storr makes only brief mention of an increasingly connected world (and bemoans the car phone!) but maintains a rear-oriented perspe
Bryan Fox
Apr 06, 2020 rated it liked it
I liked this book progressively less and less as I moved through it. The author clearly did his research (or has encyclopedic knowledge) on the lives of many famous people, but instead of reflecting and expounding on the value of solitude in the lives of ordinary people, he seems content to keep mentioning cases of famous thinkers, writers, composers and how solitude was necessary for them to achieve what they did. The nods to Freud/Jung/psychotherapy were interesting deviations, but this book c ...more
Sean Helvey
Sep 05, 2017 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the book and think that it was helpful, but was expecting more practical advice. The focus was on creative genius throughout history and the tone was very philosophical.
Stopped @ 37%. The thesis is interesting, but I started skimming quite a number of parts, like Freud’s ideas and Storr’s rebuttals. Might pick it up again one day, though.
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Anthony Storr was an English psychiatrist and author. He was a child who was to endure the typical trauma of early 20th century UK boarding schools. He was educated at Winchester, Christ's College, the University of Cambridge and Westminster Hospital. He qualified as a doctor in 1944, and subsequently specialized in psychiatry.

Storr grew up to be kind and insightful, yet, as his obituary states, h

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“It is true that many creative people fail to make mature personal relationships, and some are extremely isolated. It is also true that, in some instances, trauma, in the shape of early separation or bereavement, has steered the potentially creative person toward developing aspects of his personality which can find fulfillment in comparative isolation. But this does not mean that solitary, creative pursuits are themselves pathological....
[A]voidance behavior is a response designed to protect the infant from behavioural disorganization. If we transfer this concept to adult life, we can see that an avoidant infant might very well develop into a person whose principal need was to find some kind of meaning and order in life which was not entirely, or even chiefly, dependent upon interpersonal relationships.”
“The human spirit is not indestructible; but a courageous few discover that, when in hell, they are granted a glimpse of heaven.” 18 likes
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