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Feet Of Clay Paperback – August 19, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (August 19, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684834952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684834955
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #300,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Every generation has its charismatic spiritual leaders, its gurus. Some are true saints while others conceal unspeakable depravity. Anthony Storr, Oxford professor of psychiatry, analyzes an interesting array of gurus and finds many commonalities among them--an isolated childhood, a need for certainty, a demand for obedience. He also elucidates aspects of this psychological profile in various intellectual, artistic, and political figures of history. This eye-opening book invokes a larger issue: in our search for guidance and truth, when and why do we cross the line from reasoned inquirer to unquestioning follower? --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"The wisest men follow their own direction and listen to no prophet guiding them," wrote Euripedes. Storr (Music and the Mind), a psychiatrist, uses this ancient caution as the epigraph to a fascinating yet frustrating investigation into the appeal of guru figures. He analyzes the lives and works of the destructive, unbalanced cult leaders Jim Jones and David Koresh, and he uses their symptoms?isolation, narcissism, paranoid delusion?to take the measure of other, generally more respected, "gurus," including Gurdjieff, Freud, Jung, Rudolf Steiner, Rajneesh, St. Ignatius, even Jesus. While insisting that none of these latter can be described as insane, Storr considers their authoritarian certainty an ominous sign. Stressing that there can be a charisma based on goodness and genuine devotion to truth rather than on the power of personality, Storr warns against teachers who claim to know what he judges no single person can know: "No one knows in the sense that Gurdjieff or Rajneesh or Jung believed that they knew and were supposed to know by their disciples." But Storr's elegantly written account is tarnished by his own unacknowledged authoritarianism. He never entertains the notion that there may be states of consciousness?states of knowing?that exceed customary bounds, so that a strange cosmology like Gurdjieff's might be understood not as a paranoid delusion or mere belief, but as a challenge to habitual modes of perception and cogitation that is composed with a clockmaker's care.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

The whole book is like a long story, but definitely not a long and boring story.
Burak Kilic
It seems to me for a person claiming to be an agnostic such questions should not be considered settled apart from some mention of the evidence.
David Marshall
A great book from an imminent psychologist that is well written and very enlightening.
D. E. Ortiz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Anthony L on September 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Don't overlook this book--this is one of the finest overviews of the wide range of gurus in history and what they had in common. Disentangling the psychological influences on the guru and the follower is a very difficult trick, and Storr's illuminating review not only draws very clear pictures of the lives and work of many of these figures, but adds several chapters at the end which beautifully analyze in a dispassionate and tolerant spirit the sense and the absurdity in the ideas of both the gurus and their followers. Since we all have the drives which energize this arena it is a public service to elucidate what is happening with the clarity and perspective that Storr achieves. It should be a enormous help to anybody researching the field and a solace to anybody caught in it and trying to escape confusion. A fascinating topic brightly illuminated.
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53 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Burak Kilic on April 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
I do not agree with the other reviewer's comments; I think Starr does quite a thorough analysis of the 'gurus', whom he has chosen from a large scope of times and nations. I agree that it is not very scholarly; and furthermore it has a 'conversating' atmosphere to it. But I personally like it that way. It's clear and intelligible. Why make it seem profound, for the sake of looking more important?
The book has eleven chapters. Anthony Starr describes a couple of gurus, whom he identifies as people who declare themselves the experts of life. Gurddjieff, Rajneeh, Rudolf Steiner, and the two leading psychologists Jung and Freud are among these. It becomes interesting when there's seemingly different people.
Starr has a degree in psychiatry, and he's been a professor at Oxford, a distinguished psychiatrist in the English society, as well as honor members of the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Psychiatrists. To deny his achievements and knowledge, would simply be not right.
His writing is flowing. The whole book is like a long story, but definitely not a long and boring story. His writing consists of his presentation of the gurus with references from other writers and his personal comments in between, which I find quite logical.
The book changed my view over prophets and beliefs. Now I know the reasons why we have major religions, and why some are the only figures in religion. I now recognise the other gurus.
It was also interesting to know about the secrets of Jung's psychological sickness at his late age, in addition to how Freud was driven to become the Freud we know of him.
This book is worth reading every single page. It's a good analysis, and a good story.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By James J. Lippard on April 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book on "a study of gurus" after reading about it in John Horgan's excellent book, Rational Mysticism. The book is composed of biographical sketches of a number of gurus--Gurdjieff, Rasjneesh, Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Ignatius Loyola, and Jesus, with occasional remarks about others such as Jim Jones and David Koresh. Storr attempts to identify commonalities among gurus--egocentric, experiencing some kind of personal crisis or madness, re-integrating their personality after the crisis, creating worldviews independent of what was socially accepted, seeking the approval of followers, etc. He distinguishes within the category of gurus between those who act ethically (the saints) from those who are corrupt and abuse their followers (the sinners and the madmen).

The remaining chapters of the book examine some of the features identified in the biographical sections in more detail and concludes with a final chapter about those who follow gurus, and the benefits they receive from such a relationship.

The book was quite readable, but I found it remarkably light-weight--it seems entirely like armchair theorizing, without the benefit of any kind of detailed scientific research. I learned about the specific gurus described, but I didn't feel like I learned anything solid about what the conditions are that create them, their effects on the world, or how to wean people away from them.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 1998
Format: Paperback
Storr provides an interesting review of common attitudes and characteristics of historical figures that have had uncommon personal influence over other people. What he misses, however, is how they attain their power. Storr focuses on their absolute certainty, and indicates that other people believe and follow them because their certainty fills some need. He completely misses the role and techniques of brainwashing that are commonly employed to achieve control over other people's thinking processes.... even over the educated and intelligent. Missing that, he focuses on differentiating between "good" and "bad" gurus, using their propensity to abuse their power as his measure. Those of us who don't believe that the end justifies the means will also wish to reject this accessment: the deliberate effort to confuse other people's thinking and induce compliance through deceit can never be acceptable. This book fills a need, but don't miss Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich's book, Cult's in our Midst, for an understanding of the mechanisms by which gurus acquire and wield power.
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44 of 63 people found the following review helpful By David Marshall on December 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Anthony Storr examines the lives of an odd assortment of nine "gurus" (with reference to others along the way): Jones, Koresh, Gurdjieff, Rajneesh, Rudolf Steiner, Jung, Freud, Loyola, and Jesus. He argues that gurus tends to share a number of characteristics, he argues: isolation as children, mental distress followed by "revelation," intolerance of criticism, elitism, hatred of rules, love of speaking and travel, charisma, narcisism, and a delusional worldview. Other religious leaders who fit this pattern -- Buddha, Krishnamurti, Mohammed, Hong Xiuquan -- do come to mind. But Storr does not clearly list all these characteristics in one place or clarify which are necessary. This makes his argument fuzzy around the edges.
The most interesting part of the book for me was the account of the lives of individual gurus. Gurdjieff believed the moon controlled human action: he was literally a "lunatic." Jung and Freud didn't entirely fit Storr's profile, but his take on them was fair enough, I think.
Storr's discussion of my guru, Jesus, seemed contrived. He did not seem too familiar with primary sources, but appeared to filter perception through modern skeptics, respected (Sanders) and dubious (A.N. Wilson). (Nothing from good opposing opinions like N.T. Wright.) Neglect of primary documents may be what Storr calls "science" (a word of which he is fond), but is not good historical method. Thus, he quoted a couple Gospel passages (one very misleadingly) to argue that Jesus was hostile to families. But the Gospels show Jesus was obedient to his parents as a child, had frequent contact with mother and siblings during his ministry (even helping Mom at a wedding) and took thought for her during his death. And Jesus' disciples married. Storr ignores all that: he has a theory to prove.
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