Robert Jay Lifton

discusses

Witness to an Extreme Century

Date

Jul
5
Tuesday
July 5, 2011
7:00 PM

Location

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Tickets

This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store is very pleased to welcome acclaimed psychiatrist and author ROBERT JAY LIFTON as he discusses his new memoir, Witness to an Extreme Century.

In the spring of 1954 Robert Jay Lifton, a young American psychiatrist just discharged from service in the Korean War, decided to stay in Hong Kong rather than return home—changing his life plans entirely—so that he could continue work that had enthralled him, interviewing people subjected to Chinese thought reform. He had plunged into uncharted territory in probing the far reaches of the human psyche, as he would repeatedly in the years ahead, and his Hong Kong research provided the first understanding of the insidious process that came to be known as brainwashing.

From that day in Hong Kong forward, Lifton has probed into some of the darkest episodes of human history, bearing his unique form of psychological witness to the sources and consequences of collective violence and trauma, as well as to our astonishing capacity for resilience.

In this new memoir, Lifton charts the adventurous and constantly surprising course of his life journey, a journey that took him from what a friend of his called a "Jewish Huck Finn childhood" in Brooklyn to friendships with many of the most influential intellectuals, writers, and artists of our time—from Erik Erikson, David Riesman, and Margaret Mead to Howard Zinn, Kurt Vonnegut, Stanley Kunitz, Kenzaburo Oe, and Norman Mailer.

In his remarkable study of Hiroshima survivors, he explored the human consequences of nuclear weapons, and then went on to uncover dangerous forms of attraction to their power in the spiritual disease he calls nuclearism. During riveting face-to-face interviews with Nazi doctors, he illuminated the reversal of healing and killing in ordinary physicians who had been socialized to Nazi evil. With Vietnam veterans he helped create unprecedented "rap groups" in which much was revealed about what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, helping veterans draw upon their experience for valuable, even prophetic, insights about atrocity and war. As a pioneer in psychohistory, Lifton's encounters with the consequences of cruelty and destructiveness led him to become a passionate social activist, lending a powerful voice of conscience to the suppressed truths of the Vietnam War and the dangers of nuclear weapons.

Robert Jay Lifton
Robert Jay Lifton

Robert Jay Lifton

Robert Jay Lifton is Lecturer in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Psychology, The City University of New York. His many publications include Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (winner of a National Book Award); Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial (with Greg Mitchell); Six Lives/Six Deaths: Portraits from Modern Japan (with Shuichi Kato and Michael Reich); The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (awarded a Los Angeles Times book prize); and Home from the War: Learning from Vietnam Veterans (finalist for a National Book Award, and reissued with a new introduction on the war in Iraq).

Photo Credit: Richard Sandler

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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