Many years have passed since I studied philosophy in college. Names such as Kant and Freud were part of my regularly assigned reading. However, one name I was not particularly exposed to was Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the late Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is widely held high regard as a pioneer in the field of psychology. I saw this biography on Amazon and decided to take another look at his life and beliefs. When starting the book I had no judgments about Jung but was sure I would learn a new way of looking at the human mind and what lies behind our thoughts and actions. And while I did find some very interesting concepts put forth by Jung, there is far more to the book than meets the eye.
First and foremost, the book is an autobiography and Jung takes center stage. He begins with his childhood in Keswill, Switzerland which is idyllic of life in Europe in the years prior to the outbreak of the First World War. He is soon joined by a younger sister but quickly learns that his family is slightly different from others in terms of status and finances. His parents Paul Achilles Jung (1842–1896) and Emilie Preiswerk (1848–1923) are common people but from early on, the differences between mother and father become vividly clear. For young Carl, his relationship with each would help shape his future endeavors. His father admonishment to never become a theologian was partly followed mainly due to Jung being somewhat of a rebel as he explains early in his story. His anecdotes about his actions as a kid make it clear early on that his life was destined to be anything but ordinary.
One thing I did notice is that Jung does not mention many parts of his life with exact details but rather summarizes the main events. In fact, only the major occurrences that are discussed in detail are the death of his father in 1896 and mother in 1922. His wife’s death in 1955 is mentioned in passing during a passage about another topic. Even his children are rarely mentioned. We can only guess as to why they receive such scant attention. Regardless, the story is still highly engaging and Jung has plenty of discuss regarding his thoughts on human psychology, allowing his brilliant mind to be put on full display.
As the book progresses, Jung begins to travel abroad and his trips across Africa, India, America and the Middle East, result in highly interesting observations from the visitor’s point of view. His ability to place himself in another person’s shoes and objectively examine his European background are food for thought and shows Jung’s evolution into the figure that the world holds in high esteem. He is not without fault however and relates his shortcomings. His relationship with Sigmund Freud is an interesting part of the book and Jung explains why it ran its course and where he felt that Freud has psychology wrong. In the appendix to the book are several letters from Freud to Jung that some readers may find interesting. Letters from Jung to Freud are not included here.
A book about Carl Jung would be incomplete without some discussion of the psyche, the unconscious and God. All three and much is discussed in detail presenting compelling arguments that might challenge your current thoughts on them and how they relate to your own life. Love also finds a place in the discussion and Jung’s opinion of it and how man handles it, provides an insightful and valuable explanation of a topic and liberates, confuses and in some cases destroys. Jung has answers as to why and I believe his reasoning is still valid today, having stood the test of time.
Readers familiar with Jung’s work will find the book easier to follow along than readers who are not. However, one does not need prior knowledge of Jung’s work to follow the story. In fact, I felt that he is very clear in his thoughts and even someone who has no exposure to psychology can quickly pick up the material. His experiences provide a wealth of material into the human psyche and can spark discussions that can last for hours. His gift in this book is a gift that keeps on giving. His thoughts are not the final word but a starting point for future discourse. If you are fan of Carl Gustav Jung and want to know more about the man behind the legend, his memories, dreams and reflections are exactly what you are looking for.