Reviews for Examined Life : How We Lose and Find Ourselves

Kirkus Reviews 2013 June #2
A British psychoanalyst delves into his patients' stories, opening doors to larger insights. Today's medical culture emphasizes measurability, accountability and evidence-based practice, a logical approach that favors treatments "proven" effective. The results of psychoanalysis and counseling, however, aren't always so quantifiable. Understanding of our motivations, misfires and fears may come in fits and starts, and the answers may come as questions, but the insights gained can shift the course of a life. Grosz's book makes a compelling case for the continued value of this kind of therapy. Each chapter takes the form of a story or vignette about a particular individual or therapeutic issue. A patient referred for suicidal ideation is distant in treatment, and then, one day, his fiancee sends a letter to Grosz stating that he took his own life--but months later, Grosz gets a phone call from the man. Another patient's personal and professional lives suffer since he's intensely boring--but if he can identify when he's boring someone, why is he unwilling to change? Some of the chapters sketch out only general details about a case, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions about the meanings Grosz is trying to convey. Others take a central question, such as, "Why are we so committed to praising our children?" and turn it over and around like a Rubik's Cube. Grosz has an engaging prose style, neither riddled with professional jargon nor dumbed down to connect with a wider audience. A book that challenges readers' thinking while also assuming their willingness to put some effort into drawing their own conclusions from the material. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 March #1

Grosz could get technical if he wanted to--he teaches clinical technique and psychoanalytic theory at London's Institute of Psychoanalysis and University College London, respectively--but he believes the best way to prove the power of storytelling is to practice what he preaches. Drawing from two decades of experience as a working psychoanalyst, Grosz bases the bulk of his claims on the tales of his patients, which range from traumatic boarding school experiences to failed romances and terminal illness. They are compassionately told and eminently readable, but skeptical readers will likely lament the lack of scientific analysis. But then again, that's Grosz's whole point--science needn't be at the forefront if cathartic personal narrative is the focus. The crucial role of storytelling in forming one's sense of self and of the world seems to be a given among psychoanalysts and writers, but Grosz goes further to demonstrate the ways in which stories, when unspoken, manifest themselves as symptoms of psychological distress. Quick leaps from focused accounts to grand conclusions sometimes disrupt the rhetorical arc of the book, though this in itself might be in keeping with the overall idea that narratives are messy, unpredictable, and somehow, in spite of all of these things, inherently useful--if not always in the words, then in the silences between them. Agent: David Miller, Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd. (May)

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