Asperger's Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna (Paperback)
“An impassioned indictment, one that glows with the heat of a prosecution motivated by an ethical imperative.” —Lisa Appignanesi, New York Review of Books
In the first comprehensive history of the links between autism and Nazism, prize-winning historian Edith Sheffer uncovers how a diagnosis common today emerged from the atrocities of the Third Reich. As the Nazi regime slaughtered millions across Europe during World War Two, it sorted people according to race, religion, behavior, and physical condition. Nazi psychiatrists targeted children with different kinds of minds—especially those thought to lack social skills—claiming the Reich had no place for them. Hans Asperger and his colleagues endeavored to mold certain “autistic” children into productive citizens, while transferring others to Spiegelgrund, one of the Reich’s deadliest child killing centers. In this unflinching history, Sheffer exposes Asperger’s complicity in the murderous policies of the Third Reich.
About the Author
Edith Sheffer is a historian of Germany and central Europe, and a senior fellow at the Institute of European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of the prize-winning Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain.
Asperger’s Children should be read by any student of psychology, psychiatry or medicine, so that we learn from history and do not repeat its terrifying mistakes.
— Simon Baron-Cohen
Meticulously documented, and chilling in its detail.
— Barry M. Prizant, PhD, author of Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism
A long-overdue and gripping analysis.
— Saskia Baron
Edith Sheffer has written a book that defies easy categorization—an appropriate, if perhaps inadvertent, response to her fascinating and terrible subject matter. In Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna, she shows how the Third Reich’s obsession with categories and labels was inextricable from its murderousness; what at first seems to be a book about Dr. Hans Asperger and the children he treated ends up tracing the sprawling documentary record of a monstrous machine.
— Jennifer Szalai
This book is sensational, although its author does not seek sensation. It is a careful work of history, connecting the career of a physician with the intellectual, medical, and political contexts of Austria in the 1930s and 1940s. That world is not our world, but the connections, the habits of mind, speech, diagnosis, are more powerful than we think. In restoring history to psychology, Sheffer helps us to understand why we classify our children the way we do, and helps us to ask, as we must, just what kind of world we are making for them.
— Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century and Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
In what will now be considered the definitive study of Asperger and his relationship to the most nefarious aspects of Nazi eugenics, one of our most original historians has laid out the case against our idealizing of any physician without truly understanding their embeddedness in the complex scientific and political world of their time. An important, well-written and extremely timely book.
— Sander L. Gilman, author of Seeing the Insane
This revealing book is magnificently written and researched; it also reflects profound thinking about the origins of autism in medical, historical, and cultural terms.
— Norman M. Naimark, author of Genocide: A World History
This gripping book is a valuable contribution to the relatively neglected history of Austria in the Third Reich, and perhaps more important, to the inadequacies of medical diagnosis.
— Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich: A New History and The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: A History of Now
Asperger’s Children brings conceptual clarity and badly needed historical depth to a contemporary topic of ever-widening resonance and concern. [Edith Sheffer’s] careful and illuminating treatment deserves the fullest of public attention.
— Geoff Eley, Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History at University of Michigan and author of Nazism as Fascism
Riveting and often devastating.… The question of complicity—a term much discussed lately, albeit for different reasons—is very much the subtext of Sheffer’s book. And it is her intelligent, measured exploration of its nuances that makes Asperger’s Children transcend the specificity of its subject matter. She makes germane comparisons, too, between the Nazi culture of categorization and diagnosis and the one that has arisen around children since the nineties.
— Emily Donaldson