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A ground-breaking exploration of the chilling history behind an increasingly common diagnosis.
In 1930s and 1940s Vienna, child psychiatrist Hans Asperger sought to define autism as a diagnostic category, treating those children he deemed capable of participating fully in society. Depicted as compassionate and devoted, Asperger was in fact deeply influenced by Nazi psychiatry. Although he offered care to children he deemed promising, he prescribed harsh institutionalisation and even transfer to one of the Reich’s killing centres, for children with greater disabilities.
With sensitivity and passion, Edith Sheffer reveals the heart-breaking voices and experiences of many of these children, whilst illuminating a Nazi regime obsessed with sorting the population into categories, cataloguing people by race, heredity, politics, religion, sexuality, criminality and biological defects—labels that became the basis of either rehabilitation or persecution and extermination.
“With insightful, meticulous historical research Sheffer uncovers how, under Hitler’s regime, the profession of psychiatry became the eyes and ears of the Third Reich. This important book should be read by anyone interested in psychology, psychiatry or medicine, so that we learn from history and do not repeat its terrifying mistakes.” — Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University; author of Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty
“... historian Edith Sheffer’s remarkable book Asperger’s Children builds on Czech’s study with her own original scholarship. She makes a compelling case that the foundational ideas of autism emerged in a society that strove for the opposite of neurodiversity.” — Simon Baron-Cohen, Nature
“... impeccable research... searing, wonderfully written book...” — Dominic Lawson, The Sunday Times
“... a searing investigation of the Nazi links of the paediatrician Hans Asperger.” — Must Reads, The Sunday Times
“... a superbly researched account... It’s hard to believe that anyone will want to identify with Asperger syndrome after reading Sheffer’s extremely disturbing but very lucid book...” — Saskia Baron, The Observer
“Although at times an almost unbearably grim read, this superbly researched book is an important contribution to our understanding of attitudes to autism, and to our knowledge of one of the very darkest episodes in recent human history.” — The Telegraph
“Sheffer's book is excellent on the background to Viennese social and medical attitudes...” — The Catholic Herald
“... searing new book... [Edith Sheffer's] meticulously researched yet readable account shines a dispassionate light on Asperger as a man actively complicit with Nazi eugenicists carrying out Hitler's child "euthanasia" program.” — Science
“Edith Sheffer's meticulously researched book draws on case notes, interviews with perpetrators and victims, and scholarly papers. It illuminates not only the life of one of the most horrifying of Nazi sympathisers, but also the dark cavern of medical murder and cruelty, one of the monstrous aspects of Nazi social policy... Sheffer's book is unique...” — The Tablet
“... historian Edith Sheffer has produced a stunning work of scholarship, revealing Asperger's relationship to National Socialism and his role in the extermination of disabled children. In this unputdownable tome, Sheffer reminds us chillingly of the way in which even the best-intentioned professionals fall prey to the political climate in which we practice.” — Therapy Today
“Edith Sheffer’s Asperger’s Children: The origins of autism in Nazi Vienna is a deeply disturbing, thoroughly researched account that exposes the complicity of Hans Asperger in the murder of children suffering from what he called autistic psychopathy. The recovered voices of some of the children and their desperate parents are particularly chilling.” — Andrew Scull, Books of the Year 2018, Times Literary Supplement
Short-Listed — Mark Lynton History Prize, 2019