Death of the Great Man: A Novel


In a novel that’s part comic mystery, part political satire, and part case vignette, a psychiatrist reviews his involvement with a narcissistic national leader who has turned up dead on the consulting room couch.

When Peter D. Kramer wrote about his work with psychiatric patients in books like Listening to Prozac and Should You Leave?, Joyce Carol Oates said, “To read his prose on virtually any subject is to be provoked, enthralled, illuminated.” When Kramer switched to fiction, Publishers Weekly wrote, “The depth, quality, and ambition of Kramer’s prose will surprise those expecting a superficial crossover effort.”

In his new novel, Death of the Great Man, Kramer uses those literary skills to introduce readers to an unforgettable character, Henry Farber, a well-meaning psychiatrist forced into hiding when the nation’s chief executive—a narcissistic autocrat in his disastrous second term—is found dead on the consulting room couch. From an isolated bungalow, Farber sets out to clear his name while offering an intimate view of a flawed populist leader. What begins as comic mystery and political satire matures into a moving journey of self-exploration and a commentary on the fate of truth-telling in an era when lying has become a norm in public life.


Death of the Great Man is a diabolically clever and truly original novel about power, paranoia, and the uses (and abuses) of psychoanalysis. Filled with insight and witty asides, Peter Kramer’s dystopian not-quite-fable has caught the deflated but ever-hopeful spirit of this cultural moment with unerring skill and unfailing intelligence.” —Daphne Merkin, author of This Close to Happy


Death of the Great Man is like nothing else written from our political era—in a good way. Peter Kramer’s lifetime experience as a psychiatrist and his lifelong skill as a writer and storyteller, combine in a riveting and thought-provoking book. It is fantasy, it is reality, and it is very much worth reading.” —James Fallows, NPR commentator and former chief White House speechwriter


“Peter Kramer has created an arch political satire that also offers a deep consideration of the modes and meaning of psychoanalysis. A sly novel of many pleasures, it is at once entertaining and enlightening.” —Geraldine Brooks, author of Horse


“I’ve been a Peter Kramer fan for years. His professional training, coupled with his innate curiosity and compassion, results in a voice uniquely his. Add to that the creativity of a novelist and you have in Death of the Great Man, a mesmerizing story and a moving account of a psychotherapist in crisis.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone


“Peter Kramer, whether in his nonfiction guise or in his fiction writing, is a thinker I return to with reverence and esteem often. He has an intuitive and poignant and funny take on the deeper questions that nag struggling humans, one that he comes to with such wisdom.” —Rick Moody, author of The Ice Storm and The Long Accomplishment


“So many delightful surprises in here! For starters, I didn’t really know that Peter Kramer, one of America’s most celebrated Serious Thinkers, is also an absolutely crackerjack comic novelist. Nor did I expect this entertaining and timely story to take the thoughtful and thought-provoking twists and turns it does. Death of the Great Man is serious fun.” —Kurt Andersen, author of Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America


“An unusually astute psychiatrist gets ensnared into treating an unusually narcissistic US president who has brought the country to its dystopian knees. What could go wrong? Plenty does, all of it threaded with insights we’ve come to expect from Peter Kramer’s fiction and landmark nonfiction, and injustices and outrages we’ve come to expect from such a president— the ‘Great Man’ of the title. Dr. Kramer’s satiric tale is bold, sly, and frighteningly in tune with the moment—and the moments to come.” —Elizabeth Benedict, author of Almost, Slow Dancing, and Rewriting Illness


“Reaching with his storyteller’s wand into the swirl of the Now, Peter Kramer has created a fanciful, but in other ways deadly, political and psychological mystery. Deploying the tropes and truisms of psychotherapy, feasting on our collective fears and fantasies, Death of the Great Man is a narrative full of crackle and surprise. A mind-worm for our moment and beyond—its atmospheres will be hard to shake.” —Sven Birkerts, author of The Art of Time in Memoir


“Political satire with remarkable depictions of the workings of a psychiatrist’s mind, meditation on the proper aims of psychotherapy, and speculation about the dystopian contour of our future should a ‘great man’ return to high office.” —Sally Satel, author of Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience