Interview with psychohistorian David Lewis


Writer David Lewis is with me today to share a little bit about his historical non-fiction book, Triumph of the Will? How Two Men Hypnotized Hitler and Changed the World.
Welcome, David. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am an author, psychohistorian, Chartered Psychologist and award winning broadcaster who has devoted much of the last 20 years to studying the psychology of influence and the role of hypnosis in political, social and commercial persuasion.
Please tell us about your current release.
In the early 70s, American Intelligence declassified a previously secret report which claimed that Hitler’s blindness in October 1918, following a British gas attack, was due to mental breakdown rather than physical injury.
At a remote clinic near the Polish border, he was treated by means of hypnosis. While this restored his sight, it left him convinced that he had been singled out by destiny to make Germany, shattered by four years of vicious fighting, great again.
It was this belief in his ‘divine’ mission which motivated his drive to power.
Triumph of the Will? explored the different ways, many of them extremely brutal, that soldiers suffering from what was widely called ‘shell shock’ were treated during World War I.
I go on to recount how, in the 30s, Hitler came under the influence of a second hypnotist named Eric Jan Hanussen. He was a celebrity clairvoyant, magician, hypnotist, and showman with a headline act in Berlin's most prestigious theatre. He was also a media mogul, who promoted Hitler and the Nazi party through his newspapers, a multimillionaire who funded the brown-shirted S.A. and a mentor who coached Hitler in showmanship and public speaking.
We only know about his treatment via a book Der Augenzeuge (The Eyewitness) which had been sent to America, from Paris, just prior to the outbreak of war. It lay for many decades in a dusty New York filing cabinet unread and unnoticed until it was finally published in Germany as a work of fiction. It is now widely considered to be based on Hitler's original medical notes. These had been made available, in Paris, two German émigré writers and journalists after Dr Edmund Forster decided to fight back against the Nazis whose regime he despised
After the Nazis came to power all those who knew about Hitler's mental breakdown were eliminated if he and his Party bosses considered they posed even the slightest risk to his reputation.
Edmund Forster, the doctor, patriot and Naval Officer, who had treated Hitler in 1918 was found shot dead in his bathroom.
Eric Hanussen was murdered by his friends in the S.A. All documents relating to the case were confiscated by Himmler and the hospital where he had been treated turned into a Nazi shrine.
The author of Der Augenzeuge, Ernst Weiss, killed himself on the day the Germans marched into Paris.
What inspired you to write this book?
In 1998 I met the Rudolph Binion, Professor of Modern History at Brandies University, Boston. Fluent in German, Russian and French he had undertaken much of the early research into Forster’s life and the way in which he treated Hitler for his blindness.
I worked with Binion on a number of projects and became very interested in what psychology can tell us about history. Reading the research papers, he had retrieved from behind the Iron Curtain, I became convinced that this was a story which needed to be told if we are to get a clear idea not only of how Hitler came to power, and changed the world forever, but the role of hypnosis in political persuasion. Something which is becoming ever more urgent and resonant in the world of "fake news" and Social Media.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I am currently writing a book on Altered States of Consciousness, explaining what they are, how they can be achieved and why they matter. The basic message is that by changing your mind through developing altered states you can change your life.
David as psychologist lecturing to
students on brain function
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote my first published book at the age of 16, a thriller entitled Mantissa of Death. Later I paid my way through medical school and university by writing fiction for an American paperback house. As a qualified clinical psychologist and director of a university-based research laboratory, I have subsequently written more than 20 books on psychological topics. My two most recent are Impulse – Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It (Random House/Harvard University Press) and The Brain Sell (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) about the ways in which retailers and service providers set out to influence and manipulate consumers.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write regularly for four hours a day, between working at the University and undertaking broadcasts. I work in both television and radio, always on programs with a psychological theme.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I'm pretty boring actually. I just switch on my computer work for four hours and then switch it off again. I especially like the research part and the writing when it flows, which it often does. When I get stuck I just stick at it until I get unstuck, but this is hard work and not so much fun.
David as a photojournalist in a war zone
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a doctor, at least that's what my parents wanted, but gave up medicine for a while in favor of photography. I became a photojournalist travelling the world and covering battle, murder and sudden death as well as everything from funny animals to death-defying car, plane and motorcycle stunts. After a decade of working in journalism, I returned to university to study psychology and neuroscience. I obtained a doctorate from the University of Sussex in 1984 where I researched the role of self-help in the treatment of anxiety, depression and stress. I later established up my own laboratory, Mindlab International Ltd, in that University’s Science Park.
I have written a book about my time as a photojournalist entitled The Way It Was: A Photographic Journey Through 60s Britain (MLI Press 2019)
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
While working as a photojournalist I learned skydiving and SCUBA, obtained a private pilot's license and marine qualifications in order to expand my scope as a photographer.
Today, while I have given up flying and parachuting, I still enjoy diving as a leisure activity. I live with my partner and four rescue dogs in a small village on the south coast of Britain, just 30 minutes’ drive away from the University.
Thank you for being a guest today, David.

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