Carl Jung’s Black Books consists of 7 volumes written by Carl Jung between 1913 and 1932. As the editor, Sonu Shamdasani, indicated at the back of the book-set, they were the most important unpublished work written by Carl Jung. The books were not available to the general public until the end of 2020 and, as a result, it is not yet very common to find a review of the Black Books.
The Black Books look impressive, but also a bit intimidating, not only because of their size, but also because of the price of the book set. In this review I will discuss whether it is worth it to buy your own copy of Carl Jung’s Black Books. I will explain why you might want to buy them, or why you might not (yet) want to buy them. Are the Black Books as intimidating as they look?
Before going into the contents of the Black Books, it is worth mentioning the design of the Black Books. They look amazing and because of this they would already be an interesting addition to your bookshelf; merely for its appearance. The pages look great as well and even the paper feels extremely comfortable.
Although the Black Books appear to contain a lot of pages, it must be noted that approximately the first half of all the volumes, except for the first volume (which consists of an introduction by the editor), consist of a copy of the original handwritten version of Carl Jung. Even though it is interesting to see the original handwritten version, I am not sure whether it adds a lot of value since it is all in German. And, although, I can speak German, Jung’s handwriting is not the easiest to read and it is almost impossible to understand the original handwritten version. This does, however, also illustrate what an impressive task the editor and translator has completed.
The first of the seven volumes of the Black Books consist of an extensive introduction written by the editor, Sonu Shamdasani. The original first volume was written by Carl Jung during his childhood and is considered to be of less interest to us readers. As a result, the editor decided to replace this first volume with an introduction to the Black Books, therefore the remaining volumes could maintain their original numbering.
The introduction is written extremely well. Throughout the introduction the editor explains the events in Carl Jung’s life which led to the creation of the Black Books, as well the writing process itself. After the introduction, the second volume begins with the writing of Carl Jung on 12 November 1913. In case you are interested in reading more about the content of each volume, I have made an analysis/summary of each separate volume of the Black Books, which you can find here: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6, Volume 7.
There are several reasons why the contents of the Black Books might interest us. In my opinion two are the most important: Firstly, as the editor indicated as well, the Black Books offer a unique insight into the development of the thoughts and ideas of one of the most important psychologists to have ever lived. The editor stated that Black Books form: “The core of analytical psychology, and enable its historical genesis to be studies from its inception.” (p.122) Secondly, Carl Jung, by writing the Black Books, attempted to connect with his own self, but also indicated how every individual could do so as well.
In case you have read a lot of Carl Jung’s other books, or are interested in Carl Jung’s ideas, the first point might be a good enough reason already to consider reading the Black Books. Throughout the volumes of the Black Books, we can clearly see how some of Carl Jung’s most important ideas were developed.
In case you are interested in how you can apply Carl Jung’s ideas to your own life, then reading the Black Books is a great idea as well. Carl Jung documented his own inner journey in a way that almost no-one has ever been able to do so previously. From the discoveries of this journey, we can also learn a lot about ourselves, and they might inspire us to undertake a similar journey. As the editor indicated: “As a document humain and psychological record, the Black Books chart Jung’s attempt to resolve the twentieth-century crisis of meaning in his own person, and distill from this a means through psychotherapy for others to do likewise.” (p.122)
However, it must be noted that Carl Jung’s imagination took him to some extremely dark and distant places as well. These interest me a lot personally, but I can understand that they may not be of interest or relevant to everyone. As a result, some parts of the Black Books might not be for everyone, especially volume 6 and 7, which I also found a lot harder to digest.
At the beginning of this review of Carl Jung’s Black Books, I indicated that, from their appearance, the Black Books look rather intimidating. Luckily, this is not entirely the case, because a major part of the beautifully designed Black Books consists of a copy of the original handwriting of Carl Jung, therefore it does not take as long to read all seven volumes as one might expect.
The Black Books are, however, quite intimidating in another way; Carl Jung delves extremely deep into the depths of his own psyche, and thereby brings to the surface several long forgotten aspects of the self which might appear oddly familiar to the reader. In my opinion this is what makes the Black Books worth reading, they document an intense and deep personal journey, which somehow relates to our own personal journeys. It most be noted, however, that, in order to appreciate the content of the Black Books, some previous knowledge of the ideas of Carl Jung is desirable. I must admit that, for me personally, even after reading almost all of Carl Jung’s books, the last two volumes were difficult to comprehend. However, I believe that it will be an interesting experience to read the Black Books at several different stages of one’s life, so I will return to them in the future.
As such I must conclude that, in case you are interested in Carl Jung’s ideas, and possess at least some basic knowledge about these ideas, the Black Books are worth reading. We come to understand Carl Jung’s ideas better because we can see how they developed in the first place. I must note, however, that, considering the size and price of the Black Books, a reader’s edition, similar to the reader’s edition of the Red Book, would be interesting to see in the future. A cheaper and smaller reader’s edition will make the extremely valuable ideas of Carl Jung accessible to a larger audience.
I hope that this review might help you in deciding whether to buy your own book set. In the following weeks I will also post a full summary of the main ideas of the Black Books. In case you are interested in this summary as well, please consider subscribing to my newsletter or YouTube channel, which can be done here: Newsletter & Youtube
“If you are simply a man, creating is over. For the sake of your work you must be a child and leave him the crown.” (p.271)