The Madman in the White House: Sigmund Freud, Ambassador Bullitt, and the Lost Psychobiography of Woodrow Wilson (Hardback)
  • The Madman in the White House: Sigmund Freud, Ambassador Bullitt, and the Lost Psychobiography of Woodrow Wilson (Hardback)

The Madman in the White House: Sigmund Freud, Ambassador Bullitt, and the Lost Psychobiography of Woodrow Wilson (Hardback)

Hardback 400 Pages
Published: 16/05/2023
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“The extraordinary untold story of how a disillusioned American diplomat named William C. Bullitt came to Freud’s couch in 1926, and how Freud and his patient collaborated on a psychobiography of President Woodrow Wilson.”—Wall Street Journal

The notorious psychobiography of Woodrow Wilson, rediscovered nearly a century after it was written by Sigmund Freud and US diplomat William C. Bullitt, sheds new light on how the mental health of a controversial American president shaped world events.

When the fate of millions rests on the decisions of a mentally compromised leader, what can one person do? Disillusioned by President Woodrow Wilson’s destructive and irrational handling of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, a US diplomat named William C. Bullitt asked this very question. With the help of his friend Sigmund Freud, Bullitt set out to write a psychological analysis of the president. He gathered material from personal archives and interviewed members of Wilson’s inner circle. In The Madman in the White House, Patrick Weil resurrects this forgotten portrait of a troubled president.

After two years of collaboration, Bullitt and Freud signed off on a manuscript in April 1932. But the book was not published until 1966, nearly thirty years after Freud’s death and only months before Bullitt’s. The published edition was heavily redacted, and by the time it was released, the mystique of psychoanalysis had waned in popular culture and Wilson’s legacy was unassailable. The psychological study was panned by critics, and Freud’s descendants denied his involvement in the project.

For nearly a century, the mysterious, original Bullitt and Freud manuscript remained hidden from the public. Then in 2014, while browsing the archives of Yale University, Weil happened upon the text. Based on his reading of the 1932 manuscript, Weil examines the significance of Bullitt and Freud’s findings and offers a major reassessment of the notorious psychobiography. The result is a powerful warning about the influence a single unbalanced personality can have on the course of history.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674291614
Number of pages: 400
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


The American Psychoanalytic Association has said that it ‘does not consider political commentary by its individual members an ethical matter.’ Nor should it. The father of psychoanalysis himself, in an oft-ignored divagation, co-wrote an entire volume about our twenty-eighth president, whom he detested from afar. Patrick Weil…[has] ferreted out the original, unredacted manuscript. This is the hottest gossip about Freud or Wilson in decades. Long-dead celebs seldom spill the tea. - Dan Piepenbring, Harper's

A vivid shaggy-dog story about a curio that illuminates the possibilities (and perils) of studying the psychological soundness of presidents—a discipline as relevant as ever. - Franklin Foer, The Atlantic

The extraordinary untold story of how a disillusioned American diplomat named William C. Bullitt came to Freud’s couch in 1926, and how Freud and his patient collaborated on a psychobiography of President Woodrow Wilson. - Dominic Green, Wall Street Journal

The Madman in the White House ostensibly is about the book Bullitt and Freud wrote about Wilson, but it is mostly a biography of Bullitt, and a good one at that…What comes through clearly is the mostly impeccable judgment Bullitt exhibited in his public life, judgment that political leaders should have listened to and followed—and had they done so, the world would have been less dangerous and perhaps millions of lives could have been spared misery and death. - Francis P. Sempa, American Spectator

A captivating analysis of the history of the Wilson psychobiography that doubles as a biography of Bullitt. Along the way it vividly documents the shifts in American engagement with Europe from the first world war through the cold war from the standpoint of high-level diplomacy…Both as a work of scholarship and as a sweeping, almost novelistic tour of twentieth-century political affairs, it deserves a wide readership. - Nick Haslam, Inside Story

[Weil’s] depiction of Bullitt is remarkable and compelling. - Carl Rollyson, New York Sun

‘Dictators are easy to read,’ Weil writes. ‘Democratic leaders are more difficult to decipher. However, they can be just as unbalanced as dictators and can play a truly destructive role in our history.’ This is well put, but I think Weil’s portrait of Bullitt demonstrates something broader and more hopeful: that politics—even realpolitik—is best understood as an affair of the heart. - Simon Ings, The Spectator

Thought-provoking…Freud was fascinated by Wilson’s behavior as a world leader and embarked on a rigorous scrutiny of his psychological makeup—the exploration that Weil resumes. - Paul Starobin, American Affairs

The Madman in the White House has it all: political intrigue, momentous historical events, a charismatic central character who mixed with Churchill, Stalin, Hemingway and Picasso, a cameo by Sigmund Freud, an astonishing discovery in the archives and a champagne-drinking bear…The book excels as history, character study and intellectual thriller. Weil’s assertion that ‘democratic leaders can be just as unbalanced as dictators’ is more apt now than ever. - Nick Haslam, The Conversation

Excellent…Nearly a century since Wilson’s death, Weil’s monograph is the first to offer a comprehensive historical account of Bullitt’s career-long engagement with Wilson. - Martin Halliwell, American Literary History

An intriguing book that might be described as a biography of a biography. Deeply researched and scholarly, it tracks Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study from ideation to publication, analysing its contents and chronicling the lives of its authors and their subject…Its portrait of Bullitt is thorough and its treatment of Freudian theory rigorous. - Theo Zenou, History Today

What is clear from Weil’s book is that history is not just a result of impersonal forces acting upon human decisions. The personalities and views of political leaders matter. - Francis P. Sempa, New York Journal of Books

[A] thought-provoking study of a psychological profile of the president…Weil draws an intriguing profile of Bullitt and others involved in the negotiations. It’s a convincing case that ‘personality is very often at the heart of policy.’ - Publishers Weekly

This is the wildly implausible and entirely true story of how Sigmund Freud, joined with a US diplomat, wrote a whole book about the ills of the psyche of Woodrow Wilson. For the first time, Weil brings the content of the original Freud manuscript to light, as well as giving a rich study of the role of personal psychology in the shaping of the new global order after World War I. So long as so much political power is concentrated in one human mind, we are all at the mercy of the next madman in the White House. - Gary J. Bass, author of The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide

A remarkable and valuable contribution which merits applause. There is unlikely to be another account to rival it. Weil has explored with great thoroughness—and detachment—the story of the enigma surrounding Woodrow Wilson and the fascinating events of 1919 which continue to remain such. - Antony Lentin, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge

Patrick Weil has given us a vivid group portrait of Sigmund Freud, William Bullitt, and Woodrow Wilson—actors in and witnesses to the great drama of the Treaty of Versailles. Based on newly unearthed archival evidence that sheds light on how Freud and Bullitt wrote a biography of the twenty-eighth president of the United States, this is an urgent reappraisal of critical events of twentieth-century history. - Élisabeth Roudinesco, author of Freud: In His Time and Ours

A generation ago diplomats could be real shapers of foreign policy, and not just the president’s messengers. William C. Bullitt was among the most influential of them. He served in the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, and he represented the United States as ambassador in Moscow and in Paris as World War II approached. He was close to both Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Along the way he met Sigmund Freud and collaborated with Freud in a controversial analysis of Wilson’s character. Patrick Weil uses Bullitt’s career to probe the significance of personality in American presidential decision-making. This unusual book enriches and completes a story that we may have thought we knew well. - Robert O. Paxton, author of The Anatomy of Fascism

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