April 4, 1990

Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Abuse and Deprivation

Author Affiliations

Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine Maywood, Ill

Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine Maywood, Ill


by Leonard Shengold, 342 pp, $35, ISBN 0-300-04522, New Haven, Conn, Yale University Press, 1989.

JAMA. 1990;263(13):1848-1849. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440130146044

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There is great promise in the title and the timing of this book, but great disappointment in the telling. It is rare for an author, in his introduction, to point out the major and pervasive flaw in his work, yet not repair it: "I am fond of meandering designs; this book proceeds more by associations than by orderly progression, and some motifs recur throughout...."

Material from George Orwell's 1984 and quotes from Freud, Dickens, Chekhov, and Kipling are liberally used. However, these are interspersed in long, convoluted sentences about the author's case histories. Several readings are needed to establish some connections or even whether patient x or Orwell's Winston or a cannibalistic rat is being described. The author, apparently unaware of the contradictions, states:

Soul murder is my dramatic designation for a certain category of traumatic experiences: instances of repetitive and chronic overstimulation alternating with emotional deprivation that are deliberately