October 25, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Daniel Pick's look at the Nazi experience is strong on history but weaker on psychology ...

By Daniel Pick
Oxford University Press
‘The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind’ looks at the position of psychoanalysts during the war effort. Pick’s historical and psychoanalytical background come together effectively to question the events of WWII in which the Allies were said to be psychoanalyzing key members of the Nazi party in order for them to solve the ‘Nazi Mind’. The book is a fascinating, albeit heavy read, containing many interesting stories and subsequent analyses. It is not a book for the faint hearted but if one wants to delve into the psychological leanings of these individuals, it is an absorbing undertaking.

Pick makes it quite clear early on that there was not only one ‘Nazi Mind’ – each of the key players had their own leaning and each of these manifested into different things. Although it would have helped our war effort (alongside our consciences!) to assume that there was a clear map of the Nazi Mind, this is not a realistic portrayal of mental health, or where such atrocities come from.

He also makes it evident that the psychoanalysts of the time were doing little more than interviewing high profile Nazi Prisoners of War. Although they were in captivity, these leaders were able to fool their doctors, interviewers and guards many times and so psychologists and historians ought to be careful with the information that they obtained through these means.

The book does not discuss the history of psychoanalysis itself, although it makes clear that it assesses the usage of psychoanalysis in the context of the war. Neither does it state how any of the concepts were developed or how reliable they are. On first reading, this book makes these concepts seem like absolute truths and it would have been nicer to see some recognition of where these ideas came from.

From a historical standpoint, it was a great read as it encompassed more than just key dates and events. From a scientific standpoint it was somewhat lacking as, although it gave some indication of the relevant psychoanalytical theories, it did not fully evaluate or justify them.