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Nicholas Brealey Publishing
50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do: Insight and Inspiration from 50 Key Books

50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do: Insight and Inspiration from 50 Key Books

by Tom Butler-Bowdon
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In a journey spanning 50 books, hundreds of ideas and over a century, 50 Psychology Classics looks at some of the most intriguing questions relating to what motivates us, what makes us feel and act in certain ways, how our brains work, and how we create a sense of self.

50 Psychology Classics explores writings from some iconic figures such as Freud, Adler, Jung, skinner, James, Piaget and Pavolv, but also highlights the work of contemporary thinkers such as Gardner, Gilbert, Goleman and Seligman. We all need a personal theory of what makes people tick. To survive and thrive, we have to know who and what we are, and to be canny about the motivations of others. The common route to this knowledge is life experience, but we can advance our appreciation of the subject more quickly through reading.

From the author of the bestselling 50 Self-Help Classics, 50 Success Classics and 50 Spiritual Classics, which have sold over 100,000 in the English language and have been translated into 17 languages, 50 Psychology Classics will further your understanding of human nature and yourself.

You will find life-changing insights from 50 key books from the following authors: Alfred Adler; Gavin de Becker; Eric Berne; Edward de Bono; Robert Bolton; Nathaniel Branden; Isabel Briggs Myers; Louann Brizendine; David D Burns; Robert Cialdini; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; Albert Ellis and Robert Harper; Milton Erickson; Erik Erikson; Hans Eysenck; Susan Forward; Viktor Frankl; Anna Freud; Sigmund Freud; Howard Gardner; Daniel Gilbert; Malcolm Gladwell; Daniel Goleman; John M Gottman; Harry Harlow; Thomas A Harris; Eric Hoffer; Karen Horney; William James; Carl Jung; Eric Kandel; Alfred Kinsey; Melanie Klein; RD Laing; Abraham Maslow; Stanley Milgram; Ivan Pavlov; Fritz Perls; Jean Piaget; Steven Pinker; VS Ramachandran; Carl Rogers; Oliver Sacks; Barry Schwartz; Martin Seligman; Gail Sheehy; BF Skinner; Douglas Stone; William Styron; and, Robert E Thayer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857883862
Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing
Publication date: 01/25/2007
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 790,465
Product dimensions: 8.98(w) x 10.86(h) x 0.93(d)

About the Author

Tom Butler-Bowdon is recognised as an expert on the personal development literature. His 50 Classics series has been hailed as the definitive guide to the literature of possibility, and has won numerous awards including the Benjamin Franklin Self-Help Award and the Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year Award. A graduate of the London School of Economics and the University of Sydney, he lives and works in both the Oxford, UK and Australia, and runs a successful website:

Read an Excerpt

50 Psychology Classics

Who we are, how we think, what we do Insight and inspiration from 50 key books

By Tom Butler-Bowdon

Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Copyright © 2007 Tom Butler-Bowdon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85788-473-9



Understanding Human Nature

"It is the feeling of inferiority, inadequacy and insecurity that determines the goal of an individual's existence."

"One motive is common to all forms of vanity. The vain individual has created a goal that cannot be attained in this life. He wants to be more important and successful than anyone else in the world, and this goal is the direct result of his feeling of inadequacy."

"Every child is left to evaluate his experiences for himself, and to take care of his own personal development outside the classroom. There is no tradition for the acquisition of a true knowledge of the human psyche. The science of human nature thus finds itself today in the position that chemistry occupied in the days of alchemy."

In a nutshell

What we think we lack determines what we will become in life.

In a similar vein

Erik Erikson Young Man Luther (p 84)

Anna Freud The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (p 104)

Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams (p 110)

Karen Horney Our Inner Conflicts (p 156)

Alfred Adler

In 1902 a group of men, mostly doctors and all Jewish, began meeting every Wednesday in an apartment in Vienna. Sigmund Freud's "Wednesday Society" would eventually become the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society, and its first president was Alfred Adler.

The second most important figure in the Viennese circle, and the founder of individual psychology, Adler never considered himself a disciple of Freud. While Freud was an imposing, patrician type who had come from a highly educated background and lived in a fashionable district of Vienna, Adler was the plain-looking son of a grain merchant who had grown up on the city's outskirts. While Freud was known for his knowledge of the classical world and his collection of antiquities, Adler worked hard for better working-class health and education and for women's rights.

The pair's famous split occurred in 1911, after Adler had become increasingly annoyed with Freud's belief that all psychological issues were generated by repressed sexual feelings. A few years earlier Adler had published a book, Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensation, which argued that people's perceptions of their own body and its shortcomings were a major factor in shaping their goals in life. Freud believed human beings to be wholly driven by the stirrings of the unconscious mind, but Adler saw us as social beings who create a style of life in response to the environment and to what we feel we lack. Individuals naturally strive for personal power and a sense of our own identity, but if healthy we also seek to adjust to society and make a contribution to the greater good.

Compensating for weakness

Like Freud, Adler believed that the human psyche is shaped in early childhood, and that patterns of behavior remain remarkably constant into maturity. But while Freud focused on infantile sexuality, Adler was more interested in how children seek to increase their power in the world. Growing into an environment in which everyone else seems bigger and more powerful, every child seeks to gain what they need by the easiest route.

Adler is famous for his idea of "birth order," or where we come in a family. Youngest children, for instance, because they are obviously smaller and less powerful than everyone else, will often try to "outstrip every other member of the family and become its most capable member." A fork in the developmental path leads a child either to imitate adults in order to become more assertive and powerful themselves, or consciously to display weakness so as to get adult help and attention.

In short, every child develops in ways that best allow them to compensate for weakness; "a thousand talents and capabilities arise from our feelings of inadequacy," Adler noted. A desire for recognition emerges at the same time as a sense of inferiority. A good upbringing should be able to dissolve this sense of inferiority, and as a result the child will not develop an unbalanced need to win at the expense of others. We might assume that a certain mental, physical, or circumstantial handicap we had in childhood was a problem, but what is an asset and what is a liability depends on the context. It is whether we perceive a shortcoming to be such that matters most.

The psyche's attempt to banish a sense of inferiority will often shape someone's whole life; the person will try to compensate for it in sometimes extreme ways. Adler invented a term for this, the famous "inferiority complex." While a complex may make someone more timid or withdrawn, it could equally produce the need to compensate for that in overachievement. This is the "pathological power drive," expressed at the expense of other people and society generally. Adler identified Napoleon, a small man making a big impact on the world, as a classic case of an inferiority complex in action.

How character is formed

Adler's basic principle was that our psyche is not formed out of hereditary factors but social influences. "Character" is the unique interplay between two opposing forces: a need for power, or personal aggrandizement; and a need for "social feeling" and togetherness (in German, Gemeinschaftsgefühl).

The forces are in opposition, and each of us is unique because we all accept or reject the forces in different ways. For instance, a striving for dominance would normally be limited by a recognition of community expectations and vanity or pride is kept in check; however, when ambition or vanity takes over, a person's psychological growth comes to an abrupt end. As Adler dramatically put it, "The power-hungry individual follows a path to his own destruction."

When the first force, social feeling and community expectation, is ignored or affronted, the person concerned will reveal certain aggressive character traits: vanity, ambition, envy, jealousy, playing God, or greed; or nonaggressive traits: withdrawal, anxiety, timidity, or absence of social graces. When any of these forces gains the upper hand, it is usually because of deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. Yet the forces also create an intensity or tension that can give tremendous energy. Such people live "in the expectation of great triumphs" to compensate for those feelings, but as a result of their inflated sense of self lose some sense of reality. Life becomes about the mark they will leave on the world and what others think of them. Though in their mind they are something of a heroic figure, others can see that their self-centeredness actually restricts their proper enjoyment of the possibilities of life. They forget that they are human beings with ties to other people.

Enemies of society

Adler noted that vain or prideful people usually try to keep their outlook hidden, saying that they are simply "ambitious," or even more mildly "energetic." They may camouflage their true feelings in ingenious ways: To show that they are not vain, they may purposely pay less attention to dress or be overly modest. But Adler's piercing observation of the vain person was that everything in life comes down to one question: "What do I get out of this?"

Adler wondered: Is great achievement simply vanity put in the service of humankind? Surely self-aggrandizement is a necessary motivation in order to want to change the world, to be seen in a good light? His answer was that it isn't. Vanity plays little part in real genius, and in fact only detracts from the worth of any achievement. Really great things that serve humanity are not spurred into existence by vanity, but by its opposite, social feeling. We are all vain to some extent, but healthy people are able to leaven their vanity with contribution to others.

Vain people, by their nature, do not allow themselves to "give in" to society's needs. In their focus on achieving a certain standing, position, or object, they feel that they can shirk the normal obligations to the community or family that others take for granted. As a result, they usually become isolated and have poor relationships. So used to putting themselves first, they are expert at putting the blame on others.

Communal life involves certain laws and principles that an individual cannot get around. Each of us needs the rest of the community in order to survive both mentally and physically; as Darwin noted, weak animals never live alone. Adler contended that "adaptation to the community is the most important psychological function" that a person will master. People may outwardly achieve much, but in the absence of this vital adaptation they may feel like nothing and be perceived as such by those close to them. Such people, Adler said, are in fact enemies of society.

Goal-striving beings

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 — that we are driven by our goals, whether they are conscious or not. The psyche is not static but must be galvanized behind a purpose — whether selfish or communal — and continually moves toward fulfillment of that. We live life by our "fictions" about the sort of person we are and the person we are becoming. By nature these are not always factually correct, but they enable us to live with energy, always moving toward something.

It is this very fact of goal directedness that makes the psyche almost indestructible and so resistant to change. Adler wrote: "The hardest thing for human beings to do is to know themselves and to change themselves." All the more reason, perhaps, for individual desires to be balanced by the greater collective intelligence of the community.

Final comments

In highlighting the twin shaping forces of personal power and social feeling, Adler's intention was that by understanding them we would not be unknowingly shaped by them. In the vignettes of actual people presented in his book we may see something of ourselves: Perhaps we have cocooned ourselves in our family or community, forgetting the career dreams we once had; or maybe we see ourselves as a "king of the world," able to defy social convention at will. In both cases, there is an imbalance that will lead to restriction of our possibilities.

Much of Understanding Human Nature reads more like philosophy than psychology, overloaded with generalizations about personal character that are anecdotal rather than empirical. This absence of scientific support is one of the main criticisms of Adler's work. However, notions such as the inferiority complex have become a part of everyday usage.

While both Freud and Adler had strong intellectual agendas to pursue, Adler had a more humble aim, influenced by his socialist leanings: a practical understanding of how childhood shapes adult life, which in turn might benefit society as a whole. Unlike the culturally élitist Freud, Adler believed that the work of understanding human nature should not be the preserve of psychologists alone but a vital task for everyone, given the bad consequences of ignorance. This approach to psychology was unusually democratic, and appropriately Understanding Human Nature is based on a year's worth of lectures at the People's Institute of Vienna. It is a work that anyone can read and understand.

Alfred Adler

Adler was born in Vienna in 1879, the second of seven children. After a severe bout of pneumonia at the age of 5 and the death of a younger brother, he committed himself to becoming a doctor.

He studied medicine at the University of Vienna and qualified in 1895. In 1898 he wrote a medical monograph on the health and working conditions experienced by tailors, and the following year met Sigmund Freud. Adler remained involved with the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society until 1911, but in 1912 broke away with eight others to form the Society of Individual Psychology. At this time he also published his influential The Neurotic Constitution. Adler's career was put on hold during the First World War, when he worked in military hospital service, an experience that confirmed his antiwar stance.

After the war, he opened the first of 22 pioneering clinics around Vienna for children's mental health. When the authorities closed the clinics in 1932 (because Adler was a Jew), he emigrated to the United States, taking up a professorship at the Long Island College of Medicine. He had been a visiting professor at Columbia University since 1927, and his public lectures in Europe and the US had made him well known.

Adler died in 1937, suddenly of a heart attack. He was in Aberdeen, Scotland, as part of a European lecture tour. He was survived by his wife Raissa, whom he had married in 1897. They had four children.

Other books include The Science of Living, The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology, and the popular What Life Could Mean to You.



The Gift of Fear

"Like every creature, you can know when you are in the presence of danger. You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations."

"Though we want to believe that violence is a matter of cause and effect, it is actually a process, a chain in which the violent outcome is only one link."

"For men like this, rejection is a threat to the identity, the persona, to the entire self, and in this sense their crimes could be called murder in defense of the self."

In a nutshell

Trust your intuition, rather than technology, to protect you from violence.

In a similar vein

Malcolm Gladwell Blink (p 124)

Gavin de Becker

"He had probably been watching her for a while. We aren't sure — but what we do know is that she was not his first victim." With this creepy line The Gift of Fear begins. The book outlines real-life stories of people who became victims, or almost became victims, of violence; in each case the person either listened to their intuition and survived, or did not and paid the consequences.

We normally think of fear as something bad, but de Becker tries to show how it is a gift that may protect us from harm. The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence is about getting into other people's minds so that their actions do not come as a terrible surprise. Though this may be uncomfortable, particularly when it is the mind of a potential killer, it is better to do this than to find out the hard way.

Before he was 13 Gavin de Becker had seen more violence within his own home that most adults see in a lifetime. In order to survive, he had to become good at predicting what would happen next in frightening situations, and he made it his life's work to formularize the violent mindset so that others could also see the signs. De Becker became an expert in assessing the risk of violence, charged with protecting high-profile celebrity, government, and corporate clients, and also something of a spokesperson on domestic violence.

De Becker is not a psychologist, but his book gives more insights into the nature of intuition, fear, and the violent mind than you are ever likely to read in a straight psychology text. As gripping as a good crime novel, The Gift of Fear may not just change your life — it could actually save it.

Intuitive security

In the modern world, de Becker observes, we have forgotten to rely on our instincts to look after ourselves. Most of us leave the issue of violence up to the police and criminal justice system, believing that they will protect us, but often by the time we involve the authorities it is too late. Alternatively, we believe that better technology will protect us from danger; the more alarms and high fences we have, the safer we feel.

But there is a more reliable source of protection: our intuition or gut feeling. Usually we have all the information we need to warn us of certain people or situations; like other animals, we have an in-built warning system for danger. Dogs' intuition is much vaunted, but de Becker argues that in fact human beings have better intuition; the problem is that we are less prepared to trust it.

De Becker describes female victims of attacks who report: "Even though I knew what was happening leading up to the event was not quite right, I did not extract myself from it." Somehow, the attacker who helped them with their bags or got into the lift with them was able to make these women go along with what he wanted. De Becker suggests that there is a "universal code of violence" that most of us can automatically sense, yet modern life often has the effect of deadening our sensitivity. We either don't see the signals at all or we won't admit them.

Paradoxically, de Becker proposes that "trusting intuition is the exact opposite of living in fear." Real fear does not paralyze you, it energizes you, enabling you to do things you normally could not. In the first case he discusses, a woman had been trapped and raped in her own apartment. When her attacker said he was going into the kitchen, something told her to follow him on tiptoe, and when she did she saw him rifling through the drawers looking for a large knife — to kill her. She made a break for the front door and escaped. What is fascinating is her recollection of not being afraid. Real fear, because it involves our intuition, in fact is a positive feeling designed to save us.


Excerpted from 50 Psychology Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon. Copyright © 2007 Tom Butler-Bowdon. Excerpted by permission of Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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50 Psychology Classics: Who We Are, How We Think, What We Do - Insight and Inspiration from 50 Key Books 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
party_like_its_1799 More than 1 year ago
Great little book. If your looking for something to read in psychology, Mr. Butler-Bowdon synopsizes some really good classics.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've literally never written a review for a book but this is a book everyone should read. Its 4 or 5 pages of 50 works and theories of everyday psychology and the people behind them. Its broken down and summarized so any age group can understand and relate. I took tons of helpful notes that I look at all the time as a refresher. This is not a self help book but it certainly can be when you apply what you learn to everyday living. LOVED it. Plus it gives you 50 great works to look in to to further your knowledge. Easy read great read.
marq on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After an introduction, the book consists of fifty short chapters each laying out the main ideas in a classic psychology book. Each chapter concludes with a short biography of the author or authors. The chapters are well written, give a good summary of the main ideas and avoid controversy. This book is good you want an overview of the various schools of thought of psychology. I found some chapters very interesting so it has been helpful in directing my reading to my interests. It is worthwhile noting the chapters that are of particular interest so that you don't have to go back over the book. There is probably too little detail to be of very much use to psychology students. The book concludes with a list of fifty more books with a one sentence description which is also useful.
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