Shrinking History

On Freud and the Failure of Psychohistory


A sure sign that a book is making some kind of impression is the number of reviews it receives. Shrinking History has received more than its share, and not without reason. Few books in recent years have made a more convincing case (if you accept it) for the abandonment of a major, though relatively new, historical methodology. Because so much time has passed since this book’s publication, it seems that a review of the most useful reviews is in order.

Publication notices found inside and on the back cover of the paperback edition would lead one to believe that all reviewers are agreed on the unqualified virtues of Shrinking History. But as usual, these selections are misleading. Reviewers do, however, agree on one major point, that Shrinking History is a “cogent critique of the present state of the newly developed field of psychohistory.” What cogent implies is another matter. To those critics who had rejected psychohistory before reading this book, it is the death knell for a floundering field. To those who believe that psychohistory is a worthy new means of discerning the past, Shrinking History is little more than a clever polemic. Few reviewers, however, have been able to discount its contents and arguments without careful consideration of Stannard’s major points.


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