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Becoming William James by Howard M. Feinstein (133,000 words, 58 illustrations)

Jointly published by Plunkett Lake Press and Cornell University Press.

“In the early years of my psychotherapeutic practice, I was struck by the pervasive uncertainty that many of my patients, both young and not so young, felt about their work lives. I soon became dissatisfied with constructions that depended solely on internal conflict for an explanation when there was so obviously a cultural and historical dimension to the problem... I decided to embark on a more extended study of the James family... I found the Jameses to be vivid personalities with a gift for self scrutiny and an enviable habit of weekly letter writing and letter saving that spans American history from the close of the American Revolution to the end of the first World War. They could, I thought, be looked upon as an avant garde with characteristics that are commonplace now but were unusual then. They were urban and educated, with sufficient means to have genuine choices. Hoping to discover the historical and cultural context for what I heard and saw in my consultation room, I set out to harvest the James family experience.” — Howard M. Feinstein, Introduction to the 1999 edition of Becoming William James

Becoming William James was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 1985.

“Howard Feinstein has written a brilliant study of William’s crises over idleness, illness, and vocation within the context of intense parental and sibling entanglement.” —
London Review of Books

“Dr. Feinstein’s book is certainly a success. He has offered us a rich new vocabulary with which to describe William James.” — Willard Gaylin,
The New York Times

“Howard M. Feinstein, a psychiatrist and historian, has finally given us a life study equal in richness to James himself... a superb developmental biography.” — Dorothy Ross,
The American Historical Review

Becoming William James is a work of painstaking scholarship, written in an engaging and energetic style... Feinstein is also to be commended for a playful sense of irony, which prevents this psychobiographical study from degenerating, as others have, into a series of diagnostic vignettes... [an] excellent study.” — Brian Mahan, The Journal of Religion

“The best and truest thing one could say about the richly provocative
Becoming William James is that William, while perhaps raising an eyebrow here and there, would have welcomed it and praised it lavishly.” — Times Literary Supplement

“[Feinstein] offers us much new or reevaluated information about James and his family. In particular, he offers a series of challenges to the received views of James’s life: the nature of his relationship with his father and brother Henry, the causes of his abandonment of a career as a painter, the etiology of his various crises...” — James Campbell,

“Feinstein’s volume presents a finely nuanced reading of the internal
Sturm und Drang of William James’s early years; he places center stage the familial conflicts over vocation... Feinstein’s deep penetration into the documentary sources of the James family history unearths many new insights and facts...” — George Cotkin, American Quarterly

“[A] solidly documented, steadily perceptive, and long overdue biography... Feinstein’s thesis is strong in its outline, rich in its detail… [Feinstein] sheds penetrating light into the darker regions of one of America’s great families.” —

“Since its first publication in 1984, the book has been highly praised for its imaginative yet painstaking exploration of the parent-child and sibling relationships of one of America’s most complexly gifted families.” — Marcus Cunliffe,
American Studies International

Becoming William James does much to restore the intellectual respectability of psychoanalytic history. Written by a historian and psychiatrist with a sensitivity to the nuances and rich subtlety of emotional phenomena, the book depicts the early turmoils and ultimate triumphs of one of America’s great philosophers. And it does so without succumbing to the crude reductionism that plagues psychohistory in the hands of amateur psychologists... a solid achievement. The writing is vivid and well-paced, the research is thorough.” — John Patrick Diggins, Reviews in American History

Becoming William James is a psychobiography of James that covers the early part of his life. James begs for this sort of treatment... Feinstein is well equipped to undertake such a biography. He is professionally qualified as a psychiatrist but is also an indefatigable researcher and industrious historian... possibly the finest work yet to appear in the genre of psychohistory... On every page the author’s intelligence is at work.” — Bruce Kuklick, American Journal of Education

“Howard M. Feinstein has written a remarkable biography of William James that narrates the course of his character development up to the year he was formally appointed to Harvard’s Philosophy Department as an Assistant Professor in 1880. Feinstein’s work is revisionary in the best sense... Feinstein argues persistently and persuasively that intergenerational battles between father and son — cultural variants to be sure — accounted more than anything else for William James’s personal and professional development which, indeed, were one and the same.” — Henry Samuel Levinson,
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society

“A well-focused theme and inventive but rigorous scholarship mean that Howard M. Feinstein’s study of the first three decades in the life of William James is timely and valuable.” — Steven Weiland,
The Journal of American History

“Feinstein’s chronicle is absorbing.” — Lawrence Willson,
The Sewanee Review

“This absorbing study of the intergenerational effects one famous family had upon its individual members remains invaluable” — Seana Graham,
Simply Charly