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Collecting An Unruly Passion * Psychological Perspectives Hardcover – November 1, 1993

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st edition (November 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691033617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691033617
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A blend of compelling anecdotes and dull psychoanalysis, as Muensterberger (an N.Y.C. psychoanalyst) examines the whys and hows of manic collecting. Collecting, Muensterberger establishes at the outset, can be an ``all-consuming passion''--whether the quarry be seashells, books, paintings, or women (he cites Don Juan as a prototypical collector). The act of accumulating repeated examples of a beloved collectible, he says, reduces ``the tension between id and ego'' and becomes ``an experiment in self-healing''-- invariably, of a childhood trauma or anxiety. A magical relationship develops between collector and object, most blatantly in aborigines who collect heads or in the faithful who gather saints' bones, but evident in all collecting. Upon this familiar premise (that collecting is a sign of insecurity), which sometimes leans towards reductionism (belief in the power of relics is ``an illusory attempt at self-preservation''), Muensterberger lays a banquet of fine stories. The centerpiece consists of three psychobiographies: of Thomas Phillips, a cruel and selfish man who longed to possess one copy of every book in the world; of the novelist Honor‚ de Balzac, obsessed with bric- a-brac; and of ``Martin G.,'' an acquaintance of the author's who adored porcelain, bronzes, netsuke, and other objets d'art. Around these three men flutter a host of other collectors, from Petrarch (who had a passion for coins) to Mario Praz (who spent his honeymoon collecting Roman antiquities) and the 17th-century Dutch who spilled fortunes on tulips. Almost all are men; most are smart; many are aware of the extent of their mania; and the one certain rule that governs them all is that they reach no saturation point: Collecting is the addiction par excellence. Too ideological to entrance most readers--but students of psychology will want to add this to their collections. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


"What compels some people to buy the same object, albeit in different versions, over and over again? ... To find out why collectors lift their auction paddles long past sanity ... read Collecting: An Unruly Passion."--
Art and Antiques

"As a study of the phenomenon of private collecting, Werner Muensterberger's book, based on wide reading and personal acquaintance with many collectors, rings true."--
The New York Review of Books

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Neil Goodman on February 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
I could not put this book down from the minute I started reading it and recognized myself on almost every page. As an inveterate collector, many of the observations related to the behavior of "monomaniacal" collectors rang absolutely true and sometimes uncomfortably hit home. While some the the Freudian psychoanalysis may be a little off [or at the very least subjective], these analyses are not the crux of the book and it should not be mistaken for a jargon-laden treatise. Instead, the many descriptions of various collectors and their motivations, habits, rituals and behaviors were - in my own personal experience - completely spot-on. In fact, I wish the book was twice as long! If I had any critical comments, they would only be that there were not enough contemporary profiles of collectors and perhaps too much focus on historical figures and the collecting trends of various historical periods. All-in-all a very informative, insightful and though-provoking read...a must for hard-core collectors!
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37 of 49 people found the following review helpful By dearjanemarple on May 6, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was offended from the first page of this book written by a psychiatrist, whose theory trivializes the emotional, aesthetic and intellectual (not to mention fun) qualities of collecting by reducing the pursuit to "compulsive action molded by irrational impulses." The author interprets the acquisition of objects "as a powerful help in keeping anxiety or uncertainty under control." This anxiety is ostensibly caused by "underlying factors" such as "war, a parent's suicide, prolonged illness, physical handicaps, death of a sibling, or SIMPLY NOT-GOOD-ENOUGH early care."

With this tunnel-vision approach, Muensterberger proceeds to relate anecdotes of famous collectors' lives and interpret them as compulsive and unconscious behaviors to alleviate neuroses. The text is padded with details about the rich and famous: Balzac was a collector of "bric a brac," a hobby described as deriving from childhood suffering. The collecting habits of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II are similarly reduced to "anal-obsessive character traits." Getty, Duveen and a plethora of historical fugues litter the text. This book is a classic example of psychoanalytic gibberish, probably originating from the author's doctoral thesis, based on the number of footnotes.

Ultimately, there is no argument here related to collecting that could not equally apply to any human behavior. Thus, there is no argument at all. As any educated person knows, it is all to easy to take an erroneous theory and find lots of examples to support it. As a former curator at a top ten museum, I think I am more familiar with collectors than the author. As a collector myself, I know that collecting is a happy, positive and enriching experience.

Jeanette Hanisee Gabriel
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John DeLullo on December 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
People who aren't collectors have wondered why some people have the compulsion to collect(worthless)stuff. This book is great because it doesn't just label collectors as obsessive-compulsion,as many psychology books do, but explains the particular type of obsessive-compulsives that are collectors. Society often accepts the idea of collecting as a type of hobby and thus,normal behavior. However, when the inner life of collectors are exposed,as in this book, one begins to see a pattern of deep unresolved psychological issues which plague collectors;One begins to see that this so-called "hobby" is really an outlet for unresolved emotional problems. Their collections of(often)worthless stuff are a way to symbolically regain mastery of control in their lives, explains this book. The detailed accounts of collectors lives also reveal the individual idiosyncracies which may drive different collectors to collect the same kind of worthless stuff, but for different personal emotional reasons,thus exposing the real psychological motive in the collector's "ambition". The psychological concepts in this book may be a bit advanced for some, but Werner Muesterberger makes these easy to understand.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By damg1 on February 21, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has become the de facto text on collecting psychology. That's too bad. It's an interesting topic that deserves additional treatment and scholarship. This book is tremendously valid and insightful if you subscribe to the early/mid-20th Century school of Freudian psychology that essentially roots and reduces 90% of adult behavior to childhood experience. If you are of that bent you'll enjoy this book. Plenty of infantile deprivation correlates to be found within. The book would be better titled Collecting: A Freudian Perspective. Despite the title, there is no plural here -- it's one perspective delivered with a fairly heavy hand. Enjoy it for what it is until something something a little less rooted in 1880s Vienna comes along.
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