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Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case Hardcover – Oct 18 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (Oct. 18 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 143916827X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439168271
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #260,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"In this startling exposé...Nathan serves up a tale just as shocking as the famed original."--Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"Debbie Nathan's fine, insistent mind will stop at nothing to get to the truth behind Sybil, no how many walls are put up— Her research is beyond compare." --Susie Bright, author of Big Sex Little Death

"I've long considered Debbie Nathan to be the most important and unsung writer working in America today. Sybil Exposed affirms her brilliance. Using a fierce blend of investigative journalism and cultural criticism, she exposes multiple personality disorder as yet another lurid myth cooked up by the collective unconscious of our popular culture. The book is an astonishing achievement." -- Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak and God Bless America

“Journalist Debbie Nathan -- whose investigative exposure of day care worker Kelly Michaels's wrongful conviction for child molestation did so much to unearth the witch hunts among us -- has found a delicious, hiding-in-plain-sight historical saga to tell: the making of the most famous "multiple personality" case and book. A troubled, impressionable young girl from a Sinclair Lewis-type small town; a brilliant, bullying, female neuropsychiatrist in 1950s Manhattan; and a glamorous, frustrated feminist magazine writer who'd had an affair with Eugene O'Neill Jr.: how these three disparate American women's fates, fantasies, and ambitions came together to create a fiction that rocked the culture and continues to affect us today makes compelling and sobering reading. Who knew this true story existed?! It's as compulsively readable as it is cautionary -- two traits rarely shared in one book.”-- Sheila Weller, award winning magazine journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation

"Throughout Sybil Exposed, Nathan traces the winding path from truth to falsehood"--Salon

"A gripping history of crackpot psychiatry" --People magazine

"The true story of Sybil has found its ideal historian in Debbie Nathan...This is the book that should be a made-for-TV movie." --The Wall Street Journal

"A compelling account of the creation, packaging, and selling of this case of medical and journalistic malpractice." --Science

"In this dazzling exposé of a manipulative psychiatrist, an author who’d do anything for fame and a vulnerable girl caught in the middle, journalist Nathan reveals how these three women changed the psychiatric landscape by raising questions of identity that resonated with a generation. The result is a cautionary tale about the ways in which science, in the wrong hands, can capitalize on our collective fears. " --More magazine

"A massive undertaking of research that teases apart fact from fiction to reveal an even more interesting and educational account...Sybil remains a good book and movie, but perhaps Nathan's version of the story is the one worth telling in classrooms. " --New Scientist

“What forces cause a diagnosis like Multiple Personality Disorder to rise and fall within less than a generation? Debbie Nathan broke the story 20 years ago and now, in Sybil Exposed, she’s finally putting all the puzzle pieces together. Unless we learn the lessons in this journalistic masterwork, we are doomed to fall victim to the next fad and the next caring healer who claims to have our best interest at heart.” –Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us

“Debbie Nathan’s Sybil Exposed is a first-rate historical detective story recreating the lives of the three protagonists of one of the most popular accounts of a psychiatric patient in American history. The sixteen personalities ascribed to “Sybil” set the medical and legal tone for discussions of the ‘epidemic’ of child abuse at the end of the 20th century as well as the psychological damage done to its survivors. Nathan shows how the subject of the study, her psychiatrist, as well as the author of the book invented a biography to explain something that never existed: the multiple personalities of the patient as well as their cause. Any reader captivated by our contemporary “first-hand” accounts of mental illness, should read this account that illustrates how the demands of the readers at any historical moment shape such accounts and make them seem truer than true.” --Sander L. Gilman, author of SEEING THE INSANE Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences; Professor of Psychiatry, Emory University


Sybil Exposed isn't only an exposé of a blockbuster that pulled the wool over 6 million readers' eyes. She asks deeper questions: Why did people love this book? To what cultural zeitgeist did it respond?....Riveting, thought-provoking and a quick read, Sybil Exposed is impossible to put down.”
--The Oregonian

"A nuanced, not-entirely-unsympathetic account of the women who perpetrated a sensational literary fraud." --Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Debbie Nathan was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She has been a journalist, editor and translator for almost three decades. She specializes in writing about immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border, sexual politics and sex panics, particularly in relation to women and children. Debbie is author and co-author of four books, including Sybil, Inc. She has been involved in translating two others into English — one from Spanish and the other from Latin American Yiddish. Her essays appear in several anthologies, and her work has been published in venues as varied as Redbook and The Nation, Ms. and Playboy, The Texas Observer and Social Text, The New York Times and Vibe. Debbie’s work has won numerous national and regional awards, including: The H.L. Mencken Award for Investigative Journalism, PEN West Award for Journalism, several prizes from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, the Texas Institute of Letters Award for feature journalism, the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award for Journalism, and the John Bartlow Martin Award (from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism) for Public Service Journalism. She is a board member of the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ), an “innocence project” for people falsely accused of harming children. She currently lives in New York City with her husband, Morten Naess, a family physician, and has two grown children, Sophia and Willy.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Christine Fougere on June 16 2013
Format: Hardcover
Miss Nathan's book is just another book of fiction masquerading as a true fact book. the only parts I found interesting were the historical facts about the women (if true). Nathan has only reinforced my belief in Shirley's DID. Nathan not only has tried and failed to debunk the Sybil story, she appears to have an agenda against anyone that believes in DID. People have been fact checking her book against the material at the John Jay Library and have found major errors in this book. She appears to hate Dr. Wilbur and her contempt for her, Mason and Schreiber leap off every page. She uses creative licence and manipulates many facts. How could she possibly know what Shirley thought of or did as a young girl in her bedroom? How could she possibly know the subject of conversations between Wilbur and Walter Mason? And how can she state with authority that Mattie Mason was never diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic? Many of Shirley's childhood friends have corroborated things in the Sybil book i.e. Mattie Mason's peering to neighbours windows and relieving herself on neighbours property. Just because the tiny townspeople did nothing and know nothing doesn't mean they didn't happen. All of Shirley's medical records were long destroyed before this book was even thought of. And none of the women are alive today to dispute or verify any of Nathan's claims.

I see pieces of truth interwoven with statements of the author's opinion and comments made to capture the reader with a sense of disgust. All in all it's just a good book of fiction.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Penny Essex on Nov. 27 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is no news, as the real story of Shirley Mason was first debunked in 1998 by Peter J. Swales and Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. Even so, Debbie Nathan does an excellent job at revealing the outrageous real story behind another false disease of psychiatry.

And despite what Janet Grace writes in her comment, there are today many documented cases of false sexual abuse memory implanted by therapists. She should read books and scientific papers from Elisabeth Loftus or go to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation Web site to put herself on the leading edge of knowledge.
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7 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Alydars Crown on Oct. 25 2011
Format: Hardcover
Stress Response Syndromes: PTSD, Grief, Adjustment, and Dissociative Disorders

To Amazon Readers,

I found this Author's writings about the novel Sybil to be very biased. Originally I purchased the book hoping to learn more about the interesting but complex issues of multiple personality and dissociative disorders. I did not find it helpful, nor would I recommend it for anyone wanting information on these topics. I would also like to memtion that as a woman I took exception to the Author's suggestion that sexual abuse memories are sometimes implanted by therapists. The statistics on childhood sexual abuse speak for themselves; 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males, Canadian Statistics, Univ. of Victoria, BC. Personally I liked and believed the novel Sybil to be a good representation of the life of Sybil Dorsett, AKA Shirley Ardell Mason. Janet Grace
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 177 reviews
361 of 435 people found the following review helpful
It's About Time Oct. 26 2011
By David Eichman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first read SYBIL in 1976 when I was told, the soon to be aired TV movies principle character, Sybil, was in fact, Shirley Mason, my grandmothers step daughter. Closer to home, Shirley\Sybil was my babysitter in the late 40's and early 50's, in Denver Co. The Masons had been friends of the family for years before my Grandma, Florence, married Walter Mason, Shirley's dad. I especially remember Shirley taking requests to draw cute pictures for my older brother and me.

When my grandmother died in 1985, I retrieved about 200 letters destined for the trash, written by Shirley to my Grandma from 1954 - 1974. After reading the letters, lets just say there were discrepancies with the book, SYBIL.

Subsequently several researchers contacted me, such as Peter Swales, expressing concern over the ethics and rampant diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID). Debbie Nathan is not the first to come across this controversy, but she is the first to present it to the public, since Peter Swales and Mikkel Borch-Jacobson elected to publish it in a more academic forum in France.

Debbie Nathan has been extremely accurate and careful with the documents I have entrusted to her. She doesn't claim to be, or have to be a psychotherapist to be a good investigative reporter. To me that's just what she is, and in some ways better equipped to deal with this controversy.

SYBIL EXPOSSED is not written by a wanna-be psychotherapist dispensing her biased opinions. This is a 282 page condensation of facts gleaned from documents, letters, case files, and interviews, most of which have only been open to the public, or otherwise available, for just the last 13 years.

I am grateful for such a compilation. If you look at the footnotes in the back of the book, you'll find thirty-five pages itemizing 580 document citations averaging 30 per chapter to back up her "opinions".

SYBIL EXPOSSED is a must read for anyone who read SYBIL, but also for anyone who loves a great biography, a shared look at three women fatefully tied together.

SYBIL EXPOSSED never faulted Dr. Wilbur for not loving and caring for Shirley\Sybil. Neither did it claim that DID does not exist. After 35 years of fallout, I believe from what I've learned and what this book shows, is Dr. Wilbur's human nature overruled her professionalism and determined her judgments. Read it for yourself, you may not like your conclusions, but truth still matters. No book dealing with beliefs and maters of the mind is going to be 100% black or white, right or wrong. I believe SYBIL EXPOSED is much closer to the truth.
53 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Hard to separate the truth from the author's bias March 8 2013
By abt1950 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book claims to be an expose of Cornelia Wilbur, the psychiatrist who treated Sybil, and Flora Rheta Schreiber, the journalist whose book made Sybil a household name. Nathan makes some good points, but she is not the first person to have questioned Sybil's diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder (now DID). The author has done extensive research, which is a plus, but the book is marred by her obvious contempt for Wilbur and Schreiber. Much of the book is character assassination. Wilbur comes off as an opportunist and Schreiber as an ugly, emotionally insecure woman. For example, Nathan criticizes Schreiber's taste in clothing and gives intimate details of her sex life. This doesn't belong in a book that claims to be impartial. They're not relevant to the case she's trying to make. Nathan's vitriol undermines her case that Sybil's diagnosis was manufactured to sell the book. It's impossible to separate the author's bias from her interpretation of what actually happened. "Sybil Exposed" is a disappointing book about a fascinating subject.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
It's all nothing but Speculation. June 13 2015
By J.K. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I couldn't get through this book at all. Who is Debbie Nathan anyway, and what is she doing diagnosing the mental ailment of a woman through researching and writing about her? Only Shirley A. Mason (Sybil) knows if she was making up her Multiple Personality Disorder or not.
89 of 128 people found the following review helpful
The Author's Lack of Expertise is Disturbing Oct. 21 2011
By Goodcook - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Debbie Nathan is not a therapist or a researcher. She certainly picks titillating topics to write about - her previous works include books about pornography, ritual abuse , etc. I would say she is almost, well, obsessed with provocative, dark topics. But here's the thing: She is just a writer.

When I was a newspaper feature writer, I once mentioned to my editor in chief that I was going to get the "best sources" for a story on mental illness that I was writing. The editor asked, "What gives you the ability to know who is the best in a field when you have no expertise yourself?"

Later, after I completed my master's degree in counseling, I realized my editor had been spot on. For years, I had written authoritatively because I could access sources, write clearly, take accurate notes and had read a few articles on a subject. In reality, I simply did not have the background, training and experience to know the good and bad experts, the shades of gray in "facts," etc.

Debbie Nathan doesn't know it, but she isn't really qualified to pick apart the psychohistory of Shirley Mason ("Sybil") nor to breathlessly analyze the motives of three women who have long since died. (nor am I.) She also does not understand that it is par for the course for a patient with dissociative identity disorder to suddenly retract admissions of abuse, etc. Any experienced therapist would know that.
But then Ms. Nathan is not a therapist, researcher or otherwise expert. She is a writer, a provocative one who has written a book that was destined to be a bestseller the minute she first met with her agent and publisher, to discuss her expose of the "real Sybil."
Katherine Lipkin , M.A.
134 of 195 people found the following review helpful
An untrustworthy author with a major agenda Feb. 19 2012
By cynicalgirl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is crummy on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin, but here goes.

First things first: Debbie Nathan has an agenda, no, make that an AGENDA. And that agenda is to prove that the story of "Sybil" is completely, entirely fake and that the creators of "Sybil" (Connie Wilbur, Flora Rheta Schreiber and Shirley Mason) were three contemptible liars whose actions caused untold miseries for millions of people due to their bogus tales of child abuse that never happened and the grave psychiatric condition that supposedly resulted from it. In Nathan's opinion "Sybil" is the direct cause of false memory syndrome, "satanic panic" and a myriad of other psychiatric frauds and misconducts. She holds Wilbur, Schreiber and Mason all personally responsible for doing unfathomable harm to others by creating this silly, nonexistent psychiatric
diagnosis called Multiple Personality Disorder. Make no mistake about it: Nathan HATES these women. Her anger and disgust leap off every page. Her grudge gets tiresome very quickly; it's boring and mind-numbing to keep hearing how awful Wilbur, Schrieber and poor Shirley Mason were. Nathan gloats about what she perceives are their "failures" and even takes potshots at the way they look!

Let it be said that I never believed that "Sybil" was 100% fact. I always thought it was fact mixed with fiction, as most "true" books are. And I always thought that the descriptions of Sybil's disassociation into her "selves" were probably exaggerated. But I did and do believe that something went on in Shirley Mason's life that caused her lifelong mental and physical anguish; I think it was part environment and part heredity that made her anorexic, nervous, subject to tics and fainting spells and bizarre behavior. But Nathan will have none of this; she reiterates over and over that Mason was NOT abused. Oh sure, she grew up in a stifling religious environment that prohibited its members from even having an imagination, because anything imagined is sinful, but that's not really abuse, at least not in Nathan's mind. Her mother was pathologically overprotective and possessive and "odd; her father was a milquetoast who paid little attention to her and let the domineering Mattie be the one always in control. That does not constitute abuse to her, either. And her lifelong anorexia and other physical problems? Her lifelong mental issues? Although Nathan admits to being "no doctor", she claims that Shirley Mason's troubles were all the result of something called "pernicious anemia...an inborn lack of ability to some people to process Vitamin B12." Well, if that were so then why did Mason's symptoms improve (her physical ones, anyway) when she was given injections of hog's liver? If she were unable to process vitamin B, it would seem to me that the injections would have had little effect. There was also the meatless diet she was forced to eat (her religion forbade eating meat; eating meat was supposed to be "sinful") and her anorexia. Those factors would have contributed to her anemia. It appears that she COULD process vitamin B, but most of the time lacked getting it in food or supplements.

That "pernicious anemia" theory...well, Nathan claims that Connie Wilbur herself blurted out Mason's TRUE malady during an innocuous Q & A session. When asked how Sybil was doing, Connie's "brief, almost throwaway" answer was that Sybil had lived a long time without much energy due to "pernicious anemia." "No one stopped to think about the bombshell Connie had revealed", Nathan says. In Nathan's mind, the "bombshell" was that Connie had inadvertently exposed the REAL reason for all of Shirley Mason's mental and physical disablities. Nathan seized on those two words, pernicious anemia: "AH HA! So THAT'S it! That's the reason for every symptom, mental and physical, that Shirley and Mattie Mason every had! The truth has been revealed!" Hmm...Nathan goes to quite a lot of effort to discredit Connie Wilbur; throughout the book Wilbur is portrayed as a liar, a fraud, an unprincipled woman out to achieve her own aims no matter what she had to do to succeed. And yet Nathan wholeheartedly believes that Wilbur's "throwaway" answer is the gospel truth, the revelation that Nathan has been seeking. I think Wilbur meant nothing more than saying Shirley Mason was anemic, and didn't really care to elaborate. Why do that? Mason was a frail anorexic; of course she'd be prone to anemia. But, as usual, Nathan twists facts and events to shore up her own relentless agenda, to make it seem like all of Shirley Mason's (and her mother's) problems stemmed from a PHYSICAL condition, not a mental one.

Nathan spends a great deal of time defending Mattie Mason. She admits that Mattie Mason, was strange, odd, nervous, manic. She admits that she was so overprotective of Shirley (smothering, really) that she walked her to school every day, holding her hand, even though the school was right near their house. She did this even when Shirley was a teenager. She concedes that Mattie had a screeching laugh and that she would get what she called "the blues" so bad she would be mute and motionless for long periods of time (sounds like catatonia to me). Neighbors recalled her peering into the windows of other people's houses. She says that people who knew her described her as "a little strange, but nice." She doesn't sound that "nice" to me, but she does sound really, REALLY "strange." In fact, she sounds like she was very mentally disturbed.

One of the reasons I read this book was because I wanted to know more about all the principles in the story: Wilbur, Sybil/Shirley, and her parents Mattie and Walter. But they seem made of cardboard in this book; Nathan gives the reader no insight into their personalities at all, I guess because she's just concerned with the surface of things and has no interest in doing anything other than smearing Wilbur, Schreiber and Mason and defending Mattie Mason.

One of the main themes in this book is Nathan's insistence that no abuse was perpetrated on Shirley Mason as a child. The rapes on the kitchen table? That was just a memory of when she was forcibly held down and given ether in order to put her under for a toncillectomy. The ice-water enemas? Well, she was probably given enemas as a child as a health aid (Seventh Day Adventists were really into health food and colon-cleansing and the like) and it was probably an unpleasant experience, but that's not abuse. Mattie defecating on lawns? Mattie indulging in "lesbian orgies" with local girls? Never happened. In Nathans's view they never happened because there nobody ever said or did anything about it. Obviously Nathan doesn't know anything about the inertia and apathy of small towns. Freqently sordid, illegal goings-on occur in small towns and nobody does a thing about it and people pretend not to notice. So just because nobody yelled from the rooftops "Mattie Masons takes dumps on lawns!" doesn't mean it couldn't have happened. Same with the sexual misconduct; child molestation and illicit sex happens in small towns, even pious ones, and it's quite often ignored and disregarded.

Nathan's attempts to vindicate Mattie are laughable at times. She recounts how Shirley and Dr. Wilbur paid visits to people who knew Shirley during her childhood, some quite close to her. None of them say anything about Mattie pooping on lawns, or "lesbian orgies" or child abuse of any kind. She offers this of proof that the "demonization" of Mattie Mason was all lies. Does Nathan think that one of Shirley's friends would in polite conversation say something like "oh I remember your mother, how she used to masturbate youngs girls" or "oh you poor dear, your mother was so mean to you, raping you with flashlights and bottles?" Again, Nathan believes that if nobody said or did anything about Mattie's atrocities they must not have happened.

Nathan apparently knows nothing about how child abuse can be quite blatant and yet no one will do anything about it; not doctors, not teachers, not family members. Nathan should read "A Death In White Bear Lake" by Barry Siegel. It tells the appalling story of the torture/murder of Dennis Jurgens by his adoptive mother Lois. She poured scalding water on his genitals; doctors treated the strange, unnatural injury, but did nothing to investigate the cause. Lois Jurgen's family members saw her beating him mercilessly, saw her force-feeding him his own vomit, saw the child covered in bruises, getting thinner and sicker until she finally killed him when he was three years old. Nathan obviously doesn't know that just because the abuse of a child isn't reported or talked about doesn't mean the abuse isn't happening or didn't happen.

Another disturbing aspect of "Sybil, Exposed" is how Nathan tries her best to depict Connie Wilbur and Shirley Mason in some kind of lesbian relationship. She says when they first met there was "instant mutual attraction", that Shirley had a "crush" on Wilbur, that Shirley "burned with desire for the doctor to pat and hug her." She says that during a session Wilbur told Shirley "here, turn over" and says "we'll feel nice soft hands...doesn't that feel good?" Then this: "Connie stroked Shirley's body." She practically rubs the reader's face in her attempt to make Wilbur and Mason into lesbian lovers. In fact, she quotes a friend of Schreiber's as bellowing "What the hell! You're dealing with a psychiatrist who is obviously having a lesbian relationship with this girl!" Why doesn't Nathan have the guts to outright say what she means? What she means is that in addition to all the MPD fraud, Wilbur was also in lesbian love with Shirley Mason and vice versa. Nathan really outdoes herself in her quest to make Wilbur and Mason as grotesque as possible. A psychiatric patient in love with her psychiatrist and the psychiatrist encouraging that love and reciprocating it; really, how low can Nathan go? As low as she possibly can, apparently.

Despite praise that this book is "well-researched" I don't put much faith in what it has to say. Debbie Nathan is biased and full of hatred towards the subjects of this book. You can't trust an author like that. I certainly don't. This is a very BAD book.


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