Bettelheim, a Life and a Legacy


A well-written, fascinating portrait of Bruno Bettelheim that seeks to uncover the entire man with all his flaws and all his virtues.

Who was Bruno Bettelheim? The brilliant discoverer of a unique method of treating psychotic children, justly acclaimed the world over? Or the brutal and despotic bully who was denounced after his death by former students and patients? In her quest to understand this puzzling and powerful man, Nina Sutton spent five years tracing Bettelheim's footsteps from Vienna to Los Angeles, via Chicago, Basel, and Jerusalem. She interviewed students and colleagues, friends and enemies, and uncovered rare documents, including Bettelheim's letters from Buchenwald and Dachau.

Most significantly, he was a therapist driven by an almost magical idea: that from an absolute evil, Nazism, could be drawn the salvation of deeply disturbed children. Sutton shows how Bettelheim discovered his life force in the concentration camp and then tried to use his own aggression as a lightning rod for the self-destructive anger and violence seething within the children in his care. Probing deep into his past and into the scandal that broke out after his suicide, she reveals how care and brutality, commitment to truth and a passion for fairy tales, could coexist in this exceptional man.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Boulder, CO
Publication year:
  • 1997


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