K's Reviews > When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obsession

When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom
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's review
Jun 09, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: highlyoriginal, historicalfiction, professionallit
Recommended for: Therapists; philosophy students; Yalom fans

This ambitious book fictionalized a therapeutic relationship between Joseph Breuer and Friedrich Nietzsche, two famous thinkers who never actually met. I think my narrow knowledge of Nietzsche and his philosophy limited my ability to appreciate this book. If, as some presumably better-informed goodreads reviewers say, Yalom did a great job of capturing Nietzsche and Breuer and keeping their relationship consistent with what their writings suggest it would have been like, I’ll never know. I simply had to read it as a novel and evaluate it on that level.

As a novel, it was certainly intellectually stimulating, especially for someone who wants insight into what the therapeutic process might look like as imagined by Yalom, a premier therapist. Whenever I read something by Yalom, even if it's fiction, I feel like I'm learning about therapy. Emotionally, though, it left me a little cold for the most part although I was moved at points during the climax. Over the course of the book, I wasn’t particularly gripped by the characters or by suspense over what might happen to them. In that sense, it didn’t work for me too well as a novel.

For some reason, I haven’t read many novels of a therapeutic relationship that did work for me as novels – I wasn’t particularly enthralled by “The Treatment” either, although I did think it was a decent read. I’m not sure why this is, especially since I work as a therapist and should be fascinated by novels depicting these interactions. I do enjoy reading about the therapy process and sample dialogues, but somehow the plots of these novels don’t grab me – maybe the authors are relying too much on the therapy itself to carry the novel. I think that was true here, at least. Yalom’s fictionalization of the therapy process may be better suited for a short story format than for a full-length novel.
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Reading Progress

06/09 page 16
5.23% "Interesting so far. Looks a little more promising than my past 2 duds. I don't know if I'm intellectual enough to fully appreciate it."
06/10 page 58
18.95% "More readable than I expected, but also put-downable. Maybe if I knew more about the historical background and personalities..."
04/26 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Riv (new)

Riv I think this one was a bit too heavy for me and I wasn't able to finish it, but I enjoyed "Lying on the Couch" which was juice enough for me, but still gave me a good feel for the moral space between therapist and patient. "The Gift of Therapy" is one of Yudi's favorite books on therapy--he's a very big fan of Yalom.

message 2: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K I also really liked The Gift of Therapy An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients. I used one story from Love's Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy in my teaching here and I really liked it; unfortunately, I had to give the book back before I had the opportunity to read the whole thing. I would also like to read Lying on the Couch A Novel and Momma and the Meaning of Life Tales of Psychotherapy. There's another book of his that I'm very interested in, but I heard that the premise was much better than the execution -- the book is journals of Yalom and one of his patients describing the process of their therapy from beginning to end, which gives you the opportunity to compare patient and therapist perceptions. I heard that it's really interesting to see that sometimes the things he said in a session that he didn't even remember proved to be significant to the patient, and vice versa as well.

message 3: by M (new)

M That happens in teaching a lot

message 4: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K It happens in life too. It's happened to me so many times that people have said to me, "Oh, I remember when you said x..." and it was clearly significant to them in some way, and I barely remember saying it. And then, sometimes I think I'm being really profound and it goes nowhere that I can see.

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