233 of 248 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2004
This is a brilliant woman who has written another brilliant book. If you have come to the conclusion that I like this book you are right.
First, even the idea to study exuberance took courage. The author has previously written about her own fierce battles with manic depression. She is a serious scientist that risked her reputation to expose that side of herself before and now she has written a book that explores emotions perilously close to the up side of her illness. Admitting that she admires the emotion, given her prior disclosure of manic depression, is fraught with special risk for Dr. Jamison. While the positive emotions are understudied, this provides an admitted manic depressive with little cover. Many a depressive has gone off of their medication because of the claimed attractiveness of the manic state.
Dr, Jamison neatly traverses this difficult terrain by keeping her attention focused on others. Early in the book she concentrates her energy on President Theodore Roosevelt. Exuberance is probably the word most used to describe his personality, but still she probes deeper and uncovers insights that have eluded even gifted biographers of this fascinating man. If you are interested in what made TR tick you should read this book.
If you have read Dr. Jamison before you expect such penetrating insights, but even though I have read all of her general works I was unprepared for the beauty of expression, both hers and of many quotations both shrewd and charming that adorn the text and advance her thought.
One of each: "Joy lacks the gravitas that suffering so effortlessly commands." Jamison at 5; "The Greeks understood the mysterious power of the hidden side of things. They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language - the word `enthusiasm' - en theos - a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who hears a god within, and who obeys it." Louis Pasteur, same page. It is rare indeed to be reading a serious work and find yourself saying, "Wow."
I will close this review of a serious work that has offered me insights into a favorite historical figure as well as my children by another quote only slightly changed: (Kay Jamison Jamison's book on exuberance recounts) "a magnificent obsession, plumb-line true and enduring." at 39. When you finish reading this wonderful book you will wonder as I did how it could have been researched and written as her beloved husband lay dying. Only a woman who realized to her core that life is a savage beauty could bear such witness to joy in the midst of such pain. Read this book.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2005
I was surprised to see this book doesn't have 5 stars. I have read most of Kay Jamison's books (I still have _Touched with Fire_ and her textbook on the illness to go) and have found her to be eloquent and sensitive in describing a ravaging illness, and the tragedies that accompany it.
As a sufferer of Bipolar II rapid cycling, I've found myself holding on to one emotion or the other--fostering a depression to avoid going into an exhausting mania, fostering manic excitement to avoid despair and flatness.
Kay Jamison neatly avoids either pitfall, and describes positive psychology in a way that has never been done before, certainly never so beautifully. Her quotes are illuminating and have lead me to many authors and poets I would never otherwise have discovered.
In a time when many blame criminal acts on their bipolar disorder, it is refreshing and, also, strangely sad, to find this creation I do not believe could have been written without having spiraled into those addictive, destructive highs where the world is perilously beautiful.
Most of the books available relating to the illness that are not textbooks are "survival guides," cookie cutter books with the same information you can find anywhere on the Internet.
_Exuberance: The Passion for Life_ is an experience you will not find anywhere else; I hope it for you, as it was for me, an experience that will deepen your appreciation for life and human achievement.
125 of 143 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2006
_Exuberance: The Passion for Life_ by psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison is a fairly interesting account of individuals who have exhibited a distinctive zest for living as revealed in their activities and work. Those who are prone to excessive enthusiasm, gregariousness, and creative insight are discussed by the author, who attempts to show what it is that uniquely determines this trait. While much of the writing in this book is beautiful, it must be pointed out that exuberance is not without its pitfalls. At times enthusiasm may overcome reason leading to unusual, eccentric, or even dangerous behavior, perhaps best illustrated in literature by the case of Toad from the book _The Wind in the Willows_ by Kenneth Grahame. And, often behind the personalities of exuberant individuals there lurks a darker side of irritability, depression, and despondency. Cases of collective exuberance include stock market booms and the battle lust exhibited by some soldiers during combat. However, as anyone quickly realizes both of these have their downside and can be highly destructive. In addition, exuberance often makes it difficult to interact with others. As the author explains, exuberance tends to be a trait that an individual either has or they don't. Those who lack this trait may become jealous of or annoyed with those who possess it in abundance. In the life of great scientists, the case of the physicist Richard Feynman provides an illustration of this. While he exhibited great exuberance in his teaching style, he often left students who could not keep up or who possessed a more placid personality completely alienated. Feynman himself seems to have understood this at times, and the author quotes one of his remarks to the effect that perhaps his style served only the purpose of amusing himself.
This book for me in many ways was a great temptation.
For many years I felt like much of what is described in this book. I was intensely enthuasiastic, curious, fascinated by detail, completely immersed in thoughts and ideas, and at times experiencing an almost mystical sort of communion with the world and nature. Then one day something happened. I began to realize that not everyone had these feelings and this zest for life, and that what was worse is that many resented me because I did. Things started to bother me more, I began to feel profoundly alienated, and feelings of distress and anxiety welled up inside of me. Little by little I was exhausting myself. As it turned out I became severely depressed, and it took a long while before I felt close to normal again.
I still sometimes have these feelings again, but I have learned now to keep them to myself. And this is the tragedy of exuberance. For every up side there is a down side.
The author Kay Jamison is perhaps best known for her research on and theories of manic depression. She herself is a sufferer from a rather severe form of this illness. And in this book, she attempts to link the more extreme forms of exuberance to mania. Exuberance may be seen on a continuum, in its milder forms it may involve an excess of enthusiasm, gregariousness, creativity, and perhaps even religious and mystical feelings. However, in excess exuberance may overcome reason and commonsense. It is in the form of hypomania and mania where excesses of exuberance prove most severe. And often lurking behind this great excess of feeling lies irritability, paranoia, and eventually depression. Perhaps most interesting in this regard is Jamison's discussion of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, himself plagued by wild changes in mood, who wrote on the dual nature of man, perhaps most famously in his account of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this story, Stevenson revealed the conflict within man between his better nature and his shadow, darker self. This conflict may be observed in those individuals who exhibit exuberance at its most extreme. My one fault with Jamison's analysis is that she seems to restrict exuberance to extraverted individuals, and this restriction to me seems unwarranted. While extraverts may seem the natural sort to experience feelings of exuberance, I certainly believe that it is possible to have an introverted sort of exuberance (one allied perhaps with mysticism or scientific creativity and discovery). In addition, while the author mostly focuses on scientists and a few "eccentrics" and observers of nature, many scientists look down upon those who are exuberant, finding them lacking in the proper degree of objectivity, skepticism, and rigor necessary for the scientific endeavor. Indeed, an entire movement exists in the sciences that seeks to move away from any sort of cosmic, pantheistic, or mystical feelings of awe associated with nature towards a more brute materialism. Within the field of religion a similar thing exists, with many religious looking down on mystics.
Finally, I must add that my major problem with this book as with all Kay Jamison's books is her tendency to romanticize suffering and mental illness. She seems to associate certain personality traits with high social status, something I find particularly noxious. What is worse, she seems to associate mental illness, particularly manic depression, with high social status, creativity, and genius. Not only does this re-inforce stereotypes, but also it entirely overlooks the fact of the many individuals who suffer from this illness in silence and alone, never to achieve any social status whatsoever. Jamison never really seems to face fully on the darker more destructive side of things. And this leaves her almost oblivious to the social issues raised by mental illness. As with all her books, this one is really written for the high IQ, highly socially connected manic; however, Jamison never really seems to consider the fact that there are many who suffer in silence who are not so blessed.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2005
Albert Einstein had it. Teddy Roosevelt had it. Even Mary Poppins and Snoopy had it.
Have you ever wondered what exuberance is, and why so many gifted or highly successful people have it? Is exuberance only seen in humans, or also in animals? Can it be measured? If exuberance is a "passion for life," why is it linked to depression and suicide? Is exuberance an inheritable trait, or a contagious mood?
Author Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins
University School of Medicine, answers these questions and more in this brilliant work which explores the essence of exuberance at its core.
"Exuberance is a psychological state characterized by high mood and high energy," writes Jamison, "its origins come from the natural world, where its meaning centers on abundance, liveliness, and fertility. It is a more physically alert and active state than joy and of longer duration than ecstasy."
According to the author, exuberant people are often ridiculed for their buoyancy and exhilaration, yet exuberance plays an essential role in creativity and leadership.
What's more, exuberance may very well play a part in the survival of the species itself because exuberant people are usually energetic, enthusiastic, optimistic and socially outgoing, traits which increase their attractiveness to the opposite sex. Yet, exuberance has a dark, dangerous side. In fact, too much of it can lead to madness.
Jamison investigates exuberance as seen throughout the ages and within
different contexts like the animal world, literature, music, art, science, politics and religion. She takes famous people and characters and uses them as examples, using many quotes and references from famous sources.
Armchair Interviews says: The book is filled with fascinating facts and insights about the human mind, and was clearly researched extensively. Though Jamison writes with surprising grace and enthusiasm, this work is still a heavy read, but one which will be relished by serious readers of psychology. Highly recommended.
69 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2004
Kay Redfield Jamison, who has written with grit and integrity about her battle with bipolar disorder, has authored a new book about joy, passion, and playfulness in life and work. She's done her research, and in these pages many people speak about what makes them spring from their beds in the morning.
Her interviews with scientists in various fields, from astronomers to physicists to zoologists, are especially enlightening and give the reader a notion of how many scientists view their work as a kind of play. My husband, a cloud physicist, could strongly identify with descriptions of the joy that fuels their long hours in the observatory, lab, or field.
Jamison earnestly discusses exuberance, confidence, optimism, and energy, and relates how, from the earliest age, it's fairly easy for an observer to identify the temperament of a child. She correlates exuberance with the extroverted temperaments. (Introverted, sensitive types reading this book are liable to become saddened as they realize it's harder for them to join the party!)
Jamison, taken in by the high-spirited ones among us, fails to recognize the "downside". For example, in some cases, there is a predilection for short-lived and ultimately, unproductive interests; in others, impatience, zealousness, and a kind of imperialism that runs roughshod over other people.
Each temperament has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. While living "exuberantly" may be a wonderful goal, those who are naturally energetic, strong, and confident, have flaws like those described above. Ask my husband or children!
In a previous work, Jamison has described the awe she felt when she looked at computer-generated pictures of her own brain, lighting up and darkening in affected areas. Revealing the circuitry of the brain has aided the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. It is within the range of possibility that someday, a person's temperament will be revealed in the same manner, and the
heritability of temperament will be scientifically established.
(Mothers through the ages have been aware that their children's natures differed, even in the womb. Some are active and strongly kicking; others are placid and slower-moving.)
St. Irenaeus wrote many centuries ago, "God's glory is man fully alive." Living passionately, with joy and with wonder, is certainly a goal for all of us. How that passion, joy, and wonder will be manifested, will vary as do people's natures. As a Catholic, I am amazed at the enormous variations in the lives and personalities of the saints. Exuberance belongs to all God's children, not just the extroverted, active ones. Jamison's book gets only four stars from this reviewer because she failed to appreciate this simple truth.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2005
I am in total agreement with Nobel Laureate Jim Watson's comments "Kay Jamison's unquenchable prose matches the luxuriant lives of her doers and shakers"
Exuberance has been a neglected mood in psychology.
Jamison does a wonderful job of explicating it and showing its importance in the advancement of many unexpected fields of endeavor. I was intriqued by her examples and loved her direct quotes.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2006
On my monitor at work is a quote from Diderot: "Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things." In Exuberance: The Passion for Life, Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychology and MacArthur fellow, explores and even celebrates the our capacity for play, passion and enthusiasm.
And what a ride it is! She looks at playful and celebratory behaviors in other animals, examining the possible evolutionary benefits of risk-taking and the chemical and hormonal rewards for discovery and learning. Her exuberant subjects include Snoopy, Tigger, Mr. Toad, Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Feynman, Louis Armstrong, Jane Goodall and many others from history, fiction, and personal interviews. She even warns us of the potential dangers, the rocks and shoals of the bounding waves:
Champagne enchants, but it also intoxicates more quickly than stiller wines: heed glides into heedlessness as effortlessly as the silk chemise drops to the floor.
I learned much about my own passions and obsessions (and feel a bit less guilty about them), and after reading Exuberance I feel like I understand some of those unique, absorbed, adventurous individuals who have crossed my path.
This is no a dry science text. Jamison invites us to sip champagne, shoot off fireworks, and celebrate with her in the passionate experience of humanity.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2005
When you read Kay Jamison, you will learn something important and enjoy the lesson. In "Exuberance" her passionate and caring voice comes through not only in her discussions of the lives of those in whom joy and exuberance dwell in happiness and health but in the clear and compassionate recounting of the circumstances in which "highs" are more ominous because of their association with mental illness. She flawlessly weaves these elements together into a narrative fabric that leaves the reader better informed and, in the case of this reader, more grateful than ever for the bouts of joyfulness that have visited her life on many delicious occasions.
28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2006
Having read the five-star reviews I expected a joyful book. Unfortunately I got well and truly bogged down - not because of its intellectual weight (I've read far more erudite books than this) but because it seemed to analyse a human quality to death. What next: a mathematical formula for love - with warnings on overdose?
If other readers argue that any other approach to the subject would be frivolous, I would strongly disagree. Rather than being encouraged to experience joi do vie ourselves, we are constantly cautioned by the author to beware of the fine line between exuberance and psychopathology. Oh, we are assured - more as an afterthought - that we can reclaim joy in the end. But this is only after a long hard struggle.
Emphasising as it does the "duality of moods" the book is more a thesis on the unhealthy extremes - something that no doubt is germane for psychology students. But do we have to become so self-conscious about aliveness that we worry about going over the edge when we celebrate life?
It is interesting to note that the author does not mention playfulness, surely a 'calmer' form of exuberance, but which the majority of adults seem to have lost. No academic thesis, even if it is impressively articulate(as I concede this one is) will help us retrieve that lost quality. I note too that the author does not give personal examples. Does this mean that she is theorist only - an observer at best? If so, I'd like to hear from someone who speaks from experience. A child maybe. After all, children are reported to laugh every day five times more than adults. Perhaps this is because they are not so self-conscious and self-limiting in their approach to life as we are.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
As a scientific work, this book is well-written and presented in an interesting fashion. It consists mostly of brief anecdotes about people who were unusually exuberant, including Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and Richard Feynman. There isn't a great deal of technical or clinical data, just well-written observations. The author's exploration of the dark side of exuberance was brief, but intriguing. If you are looking for a book about how to bring exuberance to your daily life, this isn't it. The author takes the position that exuberance isn't something that can be developed, but rather occurs naturally.