BRETT KAHR’S TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2020

Professor Brett Kahr certainly knows something about the art of authoring books.  Over the decades, he has written or edited fifteen volumes and has served as series editor for more than sixty-five further titles.

Most recently, he has produced Dangerous Lunatics:  Trauma, Criminality, and Forensic Psychotherapy – a study of the childhood origins of extreme violence (e.g., paedophilia and murder) – one of the six inaugural titles from Confer Books – the new publishing arm of Confer Limited.

Confer takes great pleasure in having invited him to share with us, once again, his recommendations of the ten best books of the year.

Brett writes:

Reading books in the midst of a deadly global pandemic has certainly presented us all with yet another significant challenge.

As every single one of us has had to navigate the terrifying physical and psychological complexities of COVID-19, the very act of cuddling up with books has felt a rather different experience this year. Many of my colleagues – even the most geeky, scholarly, academic ones – have confessed that they have had great difficulty concentrating while reading professional psychological literature. Indeed, the coronavirus has become such a dominant feature of our lives and our minds that keeping up with the latest tome about the work of Melanie Klein or the newest theories of countertransference may not be quite at the top of our “to do” list at this particular point in time.

I live and work in London, rather close to several of our hardest-hit hospitals. One sunny Saturday afternoon in April of 2020 – at the very apex of the first wave of the coronavirus crisis – I perched myself in a comfortable garden chair and attempted to read a fascinating and beautifully researched tome on the history of psychiatric treatment in nineteenth-century Germany. Alas, I simply could not absorb more than two or three paragraphs of text before a blaringly loud ambulance drove by. Minutes later, a noisy medicopter flew overhead and interrupted my reading even more so. Shockingly, over the course of the next hour, no fewer than ten ambulances whooshed past the garden and at least seven more helicopters did likewise.

If I possessed a greater capacity to block out external reality, I might have settled myself into that carefully researched book on Imperial psychiatry, written by the distinguished scholar Dr. Eric J. Engstrom, much more effectively; however, as each ambulance rushed by, I could not help but think about the pain and devastation of the patients and the paramedics inside. My heart truly sank.

Needless to say, I abandoned my efforts at reading that monograph – something that I have rarely ever done in the course of my bibliophilic life.

Fortunately, as we all began to adjust to this new corona-infested world, my ability to focus on books and papers began to return; and it pleases me to report that I have done my best to keep abreast of the very finest psychotherapeutic publications which have appeared in 2020, of which we have no shortage.

Despite the devastation of COVID-19 and the awful closures of businesses and, above all, the tragic loss of so many lives, our profession has continued to provide indispensable services to our clients and patients, and I salute every single one of my fellow practitioners for soldiering on, helping to prevent, or at least to minimise, the outbursts of anxiety, depression, suicidality, and violence among so many of the often vulnerable people with whom we work.

Amid all of the chaos of this global health emergency, it pleases me to announce that Confer – our nation’s leading provider of continuing professional education for mental health practitioners – has launched not one, but two, publishing arms, namely, Confer Books, whose first eight titles have already appeared in print and whose sales have already proved impressive, and, Karnac Books – the newly inaugurated version of the old press of the same name which had ceased trading in 2017, having sold its backlist to another publisher.

Confer Books and Karnac Books – staffed by a highly experienced team of publishing experts and mental health professionals – welcome proposals from both established authors and aspiring ones. As someone who has written for Confer Books and who consults to both imprints, I recommend these extraordinary specialist presses most highly.

In view of my close association with Confer Books and Karnac Books – our newly established “Publishers of the Mind” – I have elected not to review any of the titles from these imprints as part of my Top Ten list, in spite of the magnificence of some of our inaugural works (details of which can be found on our website); instead, I have selected a fine array of books, produced by a range of different houses – our comrades in mental health publishing – and I warmly encourage us to explore these recent contributions.

Each of us must work hard in months to come in order to protect our physical and mental health, and the well-being of our loved ones, including, of course, our patients; therefore, indulging in what I call bibliophilia psychotherapeutica might not seem to be our utmost priority. But whatever unfolds with this ugly pandemic, we must still continue to educate ourselves and to enhance our minds, so that we may expand our thinking and, also, improve our work with clients; therefore, I hope that these Top Ten books might be a source of inspiration and, even, fun.

Wishing us all a much happier 2021 …

Brett.

Brett’s Top Ten

(We have listed these books in alphabetical order, according to each author’s surname).

The Handbook of Psychoanalytic Holocaust StudiesIn the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of my patients have begun to report dreams of being transported to Nazi concentration camps. This should hardly come as a surprise, as many of us, especially those in crowded cities, feel trapped and unsafe and far too exposed to deadliness. Although it might be quite unfair to compare the coronavirus to the Nazis, the publication of Professor Ira Brenner’s superbly edited book on psychoanalytical Holocaust studies could not be more timely.

An experienced Training and Supervising Analyst at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia, in P