Uncovering Lives

Uncovering Lives : Uneasy Alliance of Biography and Psychology

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Psychobiography is often attacked by critics who feel that it trivializes complex adult personalities. Yet, as Alan Elms argues, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, psychobiography can rival the very best traditional biography in the insights it offers. In presenting his case, Elms offers his own psychological portraits of prominent personality theorists (Freud, Jung, Allport and Skinner), imaginative writers (including Isaac Asimov, Jack Williamson, L. Frank Baum and Vladimir Nabokov), and political figures (such as George Bush, Jimmy Carter and Saddam Hussein).show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 326 pages
  • 157.48 x 236.22 x 33.02mm | 725.74g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195082877
  • 9780195082876

Review Text

Psychologist Elms wants to transform bestselling, warts-and-all biographers ("pathographers," as Joyce Carol Oates has labeled them) into sensitive, thoughtful chroniclers of textured lives. Sounds impractical - but Elms is mighty convincing. Part of Elms's (Psychology/Univ. of California, Davis; Personality in Politics, not reviewed) book is a how-to: The best biographers, he says, draw on many theories, not just Freudian psychoanalysis; rely on scientific method rather than speculation; look for psychological health as well as pathologies; and explain individuals in terms of their complexity, rather than reducing their motives to single sources such as greed or vanity. After explaining the principles of good biography, Elms practices what he has preached in brief psychobiographical studies of politicians (George Bush, Saddam Hussein, and Alexander Haig), science fiction/fantasy writers (including Isaac Asimov and L. Frank Baum), and psychological theorists (Freud, Jung, B.F. Skinner). The most convincing application concerns Jimmy Carter; with the benefit of 18 years' hindsight, Elms reevaluates the analysis he made nine days before the 1976 presidential election. He was especially prescient in evaluating Carter's faith: While other biographers worried about whether a born-again Christian would turn a secular government into a revival meeting, Elms understood that Carter should not be defined solely by his religious beliefs. Elms writes throughout with wit as well as insight. He comments that he had long been tempted to use Woody Allen as a subject for psychobiography - "except that the connections between his life and his work looked too simple...all up there on the screen." But, Elms notes, after Allen transformed his fantasies into reality by falling in love with Mia Farrow's teenage daughter, he appeared "rather less simple than before. Or maybe he's so simple that his sudden simplemindedness itself requires an explanation." One of the best books ever written about biography, psycho- or otherwise. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Table of contents

Part One Why Psychobiography?. 1.: The Psychologist as Biographer. 2.: Starting from Scratch. Part Two The Heart of the Theorist. 3.: Freud as Leonardo. 4.: The Auntification of C. G. Jung. 5.: Allport Meets Freud and the Clean Little Boy. 6.: Skinner's Dark Year and Walden Two. Part Three Into the Fantastic. 7.: The Thing from Inner Space: John W. Campbell. 8.: Darker Than He Thought: The Psychoanalysis of Jack Williamson. 9.: Asimov as Acrophobe. 10.: The Mothr of Oz: L. Frank Baum. 11.: Nabokov Contra Freud. Part Four Beneath Politics. 12.: Carter and Character. 13.: The Counterplayers: George Bush and Saddam Hussein. 14.: From Colonel House to General Haig. Part Five Other Methods, Other Lives. 15.: Going Beyond Scratch. Notes. Bibliography. Indexshow more

About Alan C. Elms

About the Author: Alan C. Elms is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Personality in Politics and other books, as well as many articles in popular magazines and professional journals.show more

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