Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case Hardcover – Oct 18 2011
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"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.”
"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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
I do not honestly have an opinion as to whether or not Sybil had all of the personalities or if she was just a victim of psychoanalysis. I just pray that all involved now rest in peace.
Knowledge comes from all sorts of places, and when combined with a healthy dose of skepticism and diligence, gosh, I know it's shocking, but people WITHOUT a psychiatric degree can write intelligently and correctly about psychiatric topics.
I've been seeing psychiatrists for 25 years and I have news for folks-- they're far from infallible. In fact a significant portion of them aren't fit to be counseling or medicating anyone. That degree doesn't amount to much when the person behind it is not intellectually honest, or they're driven by their own agendas, prejudices and biases.
On the other hand an honest and intelligent investigator with an interest in psychology can actually well surpass the comprehension of some of the psychiatrists I've been forced to deal with by crummy insurance.
In addition, this proclamation that only a psychiatrist or degree'd professional is fit to write about a topic or critically examine it is obtuse. So you're saying anyone who writes about a subject needs to have a degree in it, all official on the wall? Do you realize how much that would set back journalism? A good journalist approaches a subject critically and intelligently, thoroughly researches, and forms an opinion. If we only had experts in MPD writing about MPD, we'd never advance in our understanding of the condition, in as much as it exists, and how it needs to be treated.
The mind is of interest to us all. It is relevant to us all. We can all learn about it and we SHOULD all be questioning the rapidly changing and developing techniques for treating the mind as well as understanding it.
Finally, I'm stunned to see people still so ignorant about false memories, how they're formed, and the extreme suggestibility of the mind. I'm shocked to see people even slightly supporting WIlbur's methods, which, by the way, are completely outside the bounds of modern psychiatry in every way, and were even in question at the time. Her behavior and activities outside of the Sybil case confirm she had no ethics, and no ability to critically approach the functioning of the brain. People like her destroyed MANY hundreds of lives, and she clearly destroyed the life of Shirley Mason.
MPD may in fact exist. I am not convinced either way. But her methods of approaching an MPD case, if this was in fact one, were despicable.
Supporters of the original Sybil case as described by Wilbur need to do a lot more research into the hundreds of cases of false memory, scientifically proven, and the ease with which memories are implanted.
Critical thinking, people. Try it.
I also must take issue with the writing style Nathan uses. "Sybil Exposed" reads like a Danielle Steele instead of a case fact nonfiction piece. I understand a non-fiction novel, but this completely misses the mark and lands right in the middle of ridiculous. From all recent accounts, the original "Sybil" was a complete farce on a grand scale but, at the very least, made a decent attempt at being grammatically correct. This is more than I can say for "Sybil Exposed". Ridden with sentence fragments and simple sentences (while not incorrect; just juvenile) became so distracting that I started paying more attention to errors than the case Nathan was trying to build. I personally find it very hard to take the word of an author that repeatedly cannot construct a proper sentence.
If you are into a good dirty gossip story instead of a cold hard facts account, this is the perfect book. If you are a reader that prefers a story that just sticks with the facts and leaves the assumptions to the reader, you will be sorely disappointed.
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