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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: #250,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"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 (beta) 175 reviews
358 of 432 people found the following review helpful
It's About Time Oct. 26 2011
By David Eichman - Published on
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.
50 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Hard to separate the truth from the author's bias March 8 2013
By abt1950 - Published on
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The sad and important truth about a three-way codependency April 24 2015
By mandy - Published on
Format: Paperback
Who didn't read the book Sybil or see the movie? Well, the story is complete hokum. A confluence of events surrounding three women: the patient, the doctor, and the journalist. Each had a vested interest in the publicity of the story. Each were used by each other in a three-way codependency. Ultimately, it is sad. Sad for the patient, sad that the doctor's "research" influenced so much of psychiatry, and sad that the journalist did not adhere to the ethics of her profession. One reason that the truth is finally being revealed is that many of the related papers just became available for research and Ms. Nathan did a thorough job at that. It seems as if she was able to get at the truth and it is critical that it be known and used to further ethical practices, especially in the field of psychiatry.
65 of 94 people found the following review helpful
A very misleading book Nov. 20 2011
By Skip - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case

This book is damaging to the many people who have had severe childhood abuse and developed Dissociative Identity Disorder and other trauma symptoms. Trauma in childhood and adulthood leaves severe scars on many people. The catchy title implies that such scars are imaginary, the result of poor treatment, or patients who are trying to inflate their importance.

Nathan is not a clinician. It shows. Those of us who are experienced and seasoned clinicians have direct experience of the suffering of traumatized individuals. DID is not a fiction.

The denial of trauma is a national disgrace. I hope that the tragedy being exposed at Penn State can help to open people's eyes to the realities of abuse.

The reader must understand that Sybil was written decades ago when the field had little experience with the complexity of severe childhood abuse. Mistakes have been made--is that a surprise? The scientific method is designed to examine issues and refine our understanding of what is true.

The scientific literature for the diagnosis and treatment of what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder is extensive and remarkably helpful. It is available to anyone who Googles. Check out Medline, PubMed, the PILOTS database of the National Center for PTSD , or the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation ([...]).

How unfortunate that Nathan uses her many skills so destructively, and one might even say, unethically.

I have no financial interest in this issue. I am a retired psychiatrist with concern that all people, traumatized or not, be given respect and a chance to tell their stories.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Steven H Propp - Published on
Format: Paperback
Author Debbie Nathan is a journalist who has also written books such as Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, Women And Other Aliens, etc. This 2011 book concerns Shirley Ardell Mason (1923-1998), the psychiatric patient (made famous by the book Sybil and movie Sybil) who was treated by psychiatrist Dr. Cornelia ("Connie") Wilbur. [NOTE: page numbers below refer to the 298-page hardcover edition.]

She points out that "Connie decided that she would have to psychoanalyze not just Shirley but Peggy Ann, Peggy Lou, and Vicky---yet no one had ever used psychoanalysis to dig into the mind of a multiple. No one had trawled for the dark traumas that must have caused such extreme dissociation of memories and identity... Much worse things must have happened to Shirley, Connie surmised... Things so bad that they fractured a child's mind into many pieces, many personalities. Connie vowed to cure her patient no matter how much time it took. She would do it in her office, because Shirley deserved personalized, loving care, not warehousing in a crowded mental hospital... Money was irrelevant. If need be, the treatment would be given on credit." (Pg. 91-92)

She observes, "It is hard to know how much these disturbing feelings and behaviors were Shirley's way of seeking more attention from Connie, and how much they resulted from the confusion she must have been suffering from being dosed with an ever burgeoning variety of medicines---apparently as part of Connie's research into the effects of new drugs on mental illness... Connie's colleagues probably never learned of her extravagant medicating. Nor did they hear about the irregular treatment she gave Shirley." (Pg. 99) She adds, "Within two years of starting therapy with Connie in New York, Shirley had turned into a drug addict. Pentothal was her fix... While high on Pentothal, Shirley herself started to feel that she was remembering having recently spend time as different selves." (Pg. 102) She further adds, "Connie decided Pentothal was dangerous and tried to stop administering it... and Shirley's integration disintegrated. Like a hydra, she sprouted additional alter personalities. Soon there were eight..." (Pg. 104)

In 1958, Shirley gave Connie a letter: "it was clear the letter was a confession of wrongdoing. It began with Shirley admitting that she was 'none of the things I have pretended to be.' ... the letter explained how Connie had misdiagnosed her, and how Shirley had abetted the error... she and Connie needed to stop demonizing [her mother] Mattie Mason... the 'extreme things' Shirley told Connie about Mattie---the rapes with the flashlights and bottles---were fictions... Having admitted she'd spent years lying to her therapist, Shirley had no idea how her beloved Dr. Wilbur would react.... Connie read the letter without blinking. There was no way she was going to accept a recantation of her diagnosis of multiple personality disorder. Shirley was the most important patient in her professional career, not to mention in the history of psychiatry... 'A major defensive maneuver,' Connie told herself about the recantation." (Pg. 106-107)

She notes, "Regnery [the book's publisher] had one more request: that Connie agree to have her real name appear in 'Sybil' in order to increase sales by gracing the book with realism. Connie was pleased; she had never been happy with the idea of concealing her identity... everyone involved was feverish, unable to think about the risk that using Dr. Cornelia Wilbur's name would pose to her patient's anonymity." (Pg. 172) She adds, "Connie felt vindicated... she'd been recognized by the APA as a Distinguished Psychiatrist. Colleagues celebrated her for launching 'a scientific revolution.' ... At the same time Connie was receiving these accolades, Shirley got sick again." (Pg. 219)

Believers in MPD will probably loathe this book, but this book is "must reading" for anyone studying this famous case---whether one agrees with Nathan or not.