While certainly a biography, Richard Pollak's book is much more than a simple account of the life of the renowned psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. Pollak's book is both more personal and more damning than would be possible for any other writer to draft. Pollak's younger brother Stephen was a patient of Bettelheim's and a student at the Orthogenic School in Chicago. At age nine, while playing hide-and-seek with his brother in an old dairy barn, Richard witnessed his six-year-old brother accidentally fall to his death. Pollak's parents attempted to deal with this tragedy by sweeping it under the rug, a solution that only delayed the author's desire to know more about his brother, his parents, and the full dimensions of this tragedy within his family life. A visit to Bettelheim to inquire into his brother's psychological records, led to a remarkable encounter in which Bettelheim inexplicably insisted that Stephen had committed suicide and laid the blame for his death with Pollak's mother, whom he described as a jealous and uncaring woman. This incredible experience led Pollak to begin to question what type of man Bettelheim truly was, and what basis he had for his diagnosis. What Pollak has uncovered is simply incredible. A twisted path of deception, self-invention, and plagiarism is disclosed in damning detail, stripping the famed author of The Uses of Enchantment
of any justifiable claim to his esteemed reputation as a child psychologist, and throwing into doubt many of the basic details of the life the late Bettelheim had claimed to have lived. Pollak takes down Bettelheim, pins him to the mat, and pursues him to the end, in a fascinating work that stretches the boundaries of biography.