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The Madman in the White House

Sigmund Freud, Ambassador Bullitt, and the Lost Psychobiography of Woodrow Wilson

Patrick Weil

ISBN 9780674293267

Publication date: 05/16/2023

“The extraordinary untold story of how a disillusioned American diplomat named William C. Bullitt came to Freud’s couch in 1926, and how Freud and his patient collaborated on a psychobiography of President Woodrow Wilson.”—Wall Street Journal

The notorious psychobiography of Woodrow Wilson, rediscovered nearly a century after it was written by Sigmund Freud and US diplomat William C. Bullitt, sheds new light on how the mental health of a controversial American president shaped world events.

When the fate of millions rests on the decisions of a mentally compromised leader, what can one person do? Disillusioned by President Woodrow Wilson’s destructive and irrational handling of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, a US diplomat named William C. Bullitt asked this very question. With the help of his friend Sigmund Freud, Bullitt set out to write a psychological analysis of the president. He gathered material from personal archives and interviewed members of Wilson’s inner circle. In The Madman in the White House, Patrick Weil resurrects this forgotten portrait of a troubled president.

After two years of collaboration, Bullitt and Freud signed off on a manuscript in April 1932. But the book was not published until 1966, nearly thirty years after Freud’s death and only months before Bullitt’s. The published edition was heavily redacted, and by the time it was released, the mystique of psychoanalysis had waned in popular culture and Wilson’s legacy was unassailable. The psychological study was panned by critics, and Freud’s descendants denied his involvement in the project.

For nearly a century, the mysterious, original Bullitt and Freud manuscript remained hidden from the public. Then in 2014, while browsing the archives of Yale University, Weil happened upon the text. Based on his reading of the 1932 manuscript, Weil examines the significance of Bullitt and Freud’s findings and offers a major reassessment of the notorious psychobiography. The result is a powerful warning about the influence a single unbalanced personality can have on the course of history.

Praise

  • The American Psychoanalytic Association has said that it ‘does not consider political commentary by its individual members an ethical matter.’ Nor should it. The father of psychoanalysis himself, in an oft-ignored divagation, co-wrote an entire volume about our twenty-eighth president, whom he detested from afar. Patrick Weil…[has] ferreted out the original, unredacted manuscript. This is the hottest gossip about Freud or Wilson in decades. Long-dead celebs seldom spill the tea.

    —Dan Piepenbring, Harper's

Author

  • Patrick Weil is Oscar M. Ruebhausen Distinguished Fellow at Yale Law School and a research professor at the National Center for Scientific Research in France. The founder and president of Libraries Without Borders, he is the author of The Sovereign Citizen and How to Be French.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

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