50 Psychology Classics: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: July 30th, 2011 by bobmorris

50 Psycholology50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do; Insight and Inspiration from 50 Key Books
Tom Butler-Bowdon
Nicholas Brealey Publishing (2006)

An excellent guide to sources that can help us to “make a real difference” in our lives

Note: This is one of volumes in the 5o Classics series, each available in a softbound edition and priced at less than $15.00. In my opinion, the vaue of the material in each volume is worth far more than that.

Previously, I read and reviewed Tom Butler-Bowdon’s 50 Self-Help Classics and 50 Success Classics and was not surprised to find that his most recently published volume in the 5o Classics series is their equal in terms of the quality and value of the material provided. Butler-Bowdon employs essentially the same format for the three volumes: brief background on each source, major insights, final comments, and mini-bio of author. The “great thinkers” he discusses in 50 Psychology Classics are also organized in alphabetical order, although I would have preferred (one man’s opinion) that they had been organized within discrete thematic clusters, and not in alphabetical order but in terms of sequence of influence. Sigmund Freud followed by Carl Jung and Alfred Adler and then Anna Freud followed by B.F. Skinner, for example. Frankly, as I checked out the table of contents, I was initially surprised to see Edward de Bono, Howard Gardner, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Goleman, Steven Pinker, Gail Sheehy, and William Styron among the “iconic figures” listed so I read their segments first and, sure enough, Butler-Bowdon explains the inclusion of each.

In the Introduction, he provides an overview on the development of modern psychology as a field of study, once “early titans” (e.g. William James, Sigmund Freud, Jung, and Adler) had written books that the general public could understand. Within the Introduction, he also suggests seven themes that offer different perspectives on “who we are, how we think, and what we do” and assigns to each a cluster of relevant commentaries. Readers can then decide which themes are of greatest interest to them, and, on which selections to focus. For example, five sources are suggested for “Tapping the unconscious mind: Wisdom of a different kind.” They are:

The Gift of Fear (Gavin de Becker)
My Voice Will Go With You (Milton Erickson by Sidney Rosen)
The Interpretation of Dreams (Sigmund Freud)
Blink (Malcolm Gladwell)
The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Carl Jung)

I read some books cover-to-cover sequentially; with others, I hop around back and forth in random fashion; with still others, I read strategically after checking out the table of contents, as I did with this one. My guess (only a guess) is the latter approach will work best for most readers and many may decide what to read and in what order after reviewing the seven thematic clusters in the Introduction. For those who feel overwhelmed by the number of books in print and need help selecting what will be of greatest interest to them, the volumes in the “50 Classics” series will be especially valuable.

I view Butler-Bowdon is an erudite “travel agent” for readers, but also as an enthusiastic “tour guide” who then accompanies them from one “landmark” to the next. One of this book’s several value-added benefits is that Butler-Bowdon discusses several authors and works of which many (if not most) of his readers may have been previously unaware. He also does a skillful job of comparing and contrasting perspectives on a specific subject as in this volume, for example, when noting that a “central idea in Adlerian psychology is that individuals are always striving toward a goal. Whereas Freud saw us as driven by what was in our past, Adler had a teleological view – they we are driven by our goals, whether they are conscious or not.”

Those who share my regard for this book are urged to check out the other volumes in the 50 Classics series. To those in business, I also highly recommend several volumes in the Capstone reference series written by Des Dearlove, notably The Ultimate Book of Business Thinking.


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