Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Story of Psychology

I recently read a review of The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics, which was hailed as a pre-requisite text for high school graduates interested in studying physics in college. Does psychology have an equivalent text? Is there a book you could read that will help you get more out of your undergraduate psychology courses? To put it empirically, and pragmatically, is there a book you could read that would increase your grades in psychology courses?

One candidate is The Story of Psychology by Morton Hunt. There is a lot to recommend this book, first and foremost that it is a gracefully written narrative, not a textbook. This is important because Hunt tells his stories well and makes them meaningful, and homo sapiens remember meaningful stories a lot better than they do lists of "key terms."

Hunt starts at the beginning, grounding the history of psychology with the history of philosophy. Becoming conversant with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle is a duty of aspiring psychologists, I believe, and too many programs neglect this aspect of psychology training. The chapter on Sigmund Freud ("Explorer of the Depths") is fair but not fawning; most of all, it is exciting. There is a great chapter on William James, the oft-neglected prince of American psychologists (if you want a preview of the book, this chapter is available here). Here also pays attention to the contributions of Francis Galton, another seriously neglected genius.

I haven't read the "revised and updated" 2nd edition (2007), but I don't suppose it is terribly different from the 1993 edition I own (see cover below). Hunt will have had to grapple with behavioral genetics (which wasn't even a topic of consideration back in the 90s). In any case, I would strongly recommend any psychology major (or other interested person) to purchase and read this book (and several chapters more than once) as early as possible in his or her academic career. I cannot guarantee that it will help, but it is very unlikely that it will hurt.

No comments:

Post a Comment