Sigmund Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind
By Peter D. Kramer
HarperCollins/Atlas Books. ISBN: 0-060-59895-6
How to Read Freud
By Josh Cohen
Granta. 135 pp. ISBN: 1-862-07763-0
How to Read Jung
By David Tacey
Granta. 128 pp. 1-862-07726-6
All the major publishing houses are now producing not just biographies, but biographical essays: short books, with only the crucial stuff in them, often written by well-known writers. These include the series Brief Lives and Penguin Lives, among others, as well as the graphic novel-like series, "Introducing," in which illustrations of Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung or Ludwig Wittgenstein utter their thoughts in comic-book bubbles, as if they were just coming up with them.
What's good about these "potted biographies" is that they turn lives into a good story and tell you why these people are important—like good feature-magazine articles between book covers, with narrative and analysis interwoven. There's an honorable tradition of such essaying, as the editors of the latest series addition, Eminent Lives (published by HarperCollins) remind us. The notion of brief biographies goes back to Plutarch, Ben Johnson, and Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians. On the back page, the HarperCollins editors promote their new works as "perfect for an age short on time."
One of the latest from the Eminent…