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VINE VOICEon June 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Humans are psychologically complicated, and it would be nice if there was a way to classify people in a way that is both broad (making it convenient) and yet somewhat specific (making it accurate). Samuel Barondes provides the solution with this book - kind of.

This book focuses on two main points, classifying human personality, and how personality is formed. Barondes breaks down basic personality into what he calls the "Big Five." They are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. We all have varying degrees of each trait. For example, in terms of extroversion, some people are very outgoing, while others prefer being alone. Barondes classifies extremes in each category as a personality disorder. For example, an extremely extroverted person might have histrionic personality disorder, while someone who is an extreme loner might be schizotypal (like chess champion and misanthrope Bobby Fischer). After covering the "Big Five" in some depth, Barondes explains the interaction of nature (genetics) and nurture in forming personality, brain plasticity (the brain makes new connections even to adulthood, so personality is never rigidly fixed, although the adult brain is much less plastic than a child's brain), moral character, and ways we create our own stories.

I enjoyed this book, and I believe it did live up to its subtitle, i.e. it tries to "decode the mysteries of personality." The "Big Five" are helpful when sizing people up, including ourselves. The book provides a link to an online test that classifies where you (or someone else, if you fill it out with them in mind) fall under each category. I scored high on extroversion, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. However, being too agreeable is often correlated with lower pay. Many leaders are not really agreeable. Steve Jobs, according to the book, scores low in agreeableness (he is a bit of an unpredictable jerk at times). Thus, the book provides reasons for altering your personality (although it doesn't provide tools to do so).

I should note this book is not a step-by-step "how to" guide about reading people or people's personalities. Decoding personality is a different concept than being a people reader. This book explores the complexity of human personality, and how each person's unique personality is formed, by both nature and nurture. The first two chapters, and last chapter, are related to sizing people up, but the middle chapters are more academic and theoretical. I found the contents fascinating, even though it did seem a bit random at times, since the opening material implies a more practical use for the book, even though the long middle chapters are more theoretical and academic in nature.

One major drawback is this book's size. Even though it is listed as 240 pages (my review copy ended before the index, so I will take Amazon's word it is 240 pages), the end notes begin on page 151. That is almost a hundred pages of end notes, references, and index material. I am glad the book is well-researched, but the price seems steep for the amount of actual material.

Overall, I enjoyed this book about a very fascinating topic. Even though the topic is academic, Barondes explains it in an easily understood manner. The book is too short for the price, and the material seems a bit disconnected at times (is it an academic book about personality development, or a book about sizing people up?), but I am more effective at classifying different personalities because I have read it.
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on July 17, 2011
This book is an utterly fascinating and accessible tour of everything science reveals about personality. It gives us the tools to "decode" the people we meet: how to identify personality patterns and traits, gain insight into how genes influence personality, and learn how one's background and context might affect his/her brain and behavior.

At the end of this gem is a quote from Eisenhower: "In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." Similarly, in life, the ability to "decode" other people -- our spouses, partners, kids, colleagues, bosses, and so on -- is indispensable, even if how to act on this knowledge is open-ended. This is no "how-to" book, but readers will surely figure out how to apply it to their own situations and relationships.

After absorbing this book, this reader found herself wiser, more understanding, and more effective in dealing with people. Here are tools for life.
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on June 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this book the author gives a brief overview of how people think, and why they are believed to think that way. Despite the marketing copy, however, this book doesn't lay out an approach to evaluating and dealing with people you encounter.

The first part of the book explains the different personality types psychologists have defined, and also the personality flaws they have defined. The second part discusses the nature and nurture (my words, not the author's) of peoples' psychologies. To somewhat oversimplify, the author takes the common view that genes provide proclivities, and stimuli trigger, or don't trigger, those proclivities. These chapters make for a decent, short overview of the subject, but if you have been following research in this area at all you won't find any surprises here.

The final part has three chapters, the first two of which deal with character and with peoples' development of their life stories. As in the earlier parts, the author uses famous people as examples of how the categories identified by psychologists can be used to develop insight into why people act as they do.

Only in the last ten pages of the book does the author provide an outline of how he uses this material to understand the people he encounters. While the entirety of the book is useful for this purpose, the marketing copy makes it sound much more like a how to book than it is.

Were this book advertised as an overview of the psychological characterization of personality types, I might have given it four stars. But judging it against the product description I can't go beyond three.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
You only need consider this book's endorsements by many neuroscientific luminaries (e.g. Eric Kandel, Robert Sapolsky, etc.) to know that Samuel Barondes is a highly respected expert.

I wish I could say I liked this book as much as Barondes' previous efforts, which made timely contributions to our collective ability to "make sense of people."

Instead, I'm left scratching my head a bit. While no psychiatric expert, I do have the expertise of an author and veteran advocate in the area of a common mental-health condition (Adult ADHD) and its comorbidities. I've learned that the old psychoanalytic paradigms for framing a person's traits and behavior leave much to be desired; old paradigms often lead us to be more judgmental than understanding. Old paradigms also mean that many adults with ADHD do not get the treatment they deserve, even from allegedly expert psychiatrists.

Yes, terms such as avoidant, narcissistic, and compulsive do help us "name" potentially troublesome behaviors in a future mate, a boss, a friend or a family member instead of explaining it away as stress, for example. I think it is critically important to recognize the "red flags" when you see them, and this book helps in that regard. As a culture, it seems we've come to mistake "tolerance" and "neurodiversity" as being tantamount to accepting clearly aberrant behavior. It wasn't too long ago, for example, that the Titans of Wall Street were held up as national icons of success; why did more people not see them for what they were, what only a few years would clearly show them to be? Because people didn't know what to look for - or they didn't want to see it. Who knows...

But these terms and others used throughout the book (e.g. neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness) seem so subjective to me and thus too easy to misperceive and to mistake for something else. I would have found it more useful to find some kind of neuroscientific explanation connected to these behavior traits. A type of "translation" between behaviors and neurogenetic underpinnings.

Mostly, my brain was boggled by the book's multiple paradigms stacked on top of paradigms. Maybe my brain is just particularly slow this summer, but I had trouble making sense of the almost labyrinthine strategy for making sense of people.

Finally, I will chime in with a few other reviewers to say I was extremely turned off by the armchair psychoanalysis of political figures. I understand the need to make abstract material come alive through publicly known characters. But such analysis is highly biased by any analyst's political persuasions and comprehension of complex events. The analyses here seem very superficial to me. For example, there are those who don't see Nader as a pure egotist. They see a man who was deeply frustrated with the system, a man with a long track record of serving the public interest. My (mixed) opinion on Nader is irrelevant. What matters is that the characterization of Nader is just too simplistic. And drawing simplistic conclusions about highly complex people just doesn't "make sense" to me.
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VINE VOICEon July 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm very interested in psychology and especially personality and temperament differences so I guess I was hoping this book would be a lot more than what it was. It didn't go into any depth at all, and it was too short to even prove valuable as a survey or overview. Though the author does a really good job of citing sources, it bothered me that the notes and references section of the book was almost half of its pages. It's a really brief, incomplete book. I also found the digressions about the character traits of presidential figures to be kind of boring.
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on January 10, 2013
Dr. Barondes presents an overview of the Five Factor Model of personality while not suggesting that the FFM is primarily a taxonomy, and is somewhat atheoretical. The problem with this approach is that it presumes more efficacy in prediction than actually exists, and does not take into account the intrinsic human tendency to act to expectation. The problem with labels is then that they prescribe as they describe. Stereotype threat is a common problem in treatment, and more so in human interaction that it cannot be discounted as a large influence on behavior.

Saying that you know what someone will do even when you don't can influence their response.

Even if that simple caveat weren't enough, overstating the efficacy of the Five Factor Model is. What's forgotten is the subjective perception of personal biography and how that as well influences personality and behavior as well as other theoretical orientations. Using only one theoretical orientation, just as using only objective biography and objective measure trait descriptions within only a five factor taxonomy actually does very little to explain behavior. It, in essence, can only describe it, and not very well because of the lack of symmetry between common and scientific language.

Taken as an example, if we were to use the FFM proposed in this text to predict violent action we would be at a loss. In at least 30 per cent of cases by my estimation we would be wrong. Such a wide margin is unacceptable, and inexcusable to propose in such a final tone. Presuming the debate is over only serves to underline the holes in the theory.

On the whole, yes the book is written well. It relates the Five Factor Theory fairly well. What it does not do is present the debate in its entirety and relate the uncertainty, and the diversity of opinion and empirical statistical facts. Such is irresponsible because it persuades inappropriate action in that it purports to reliably predict behavior.

Dr. Barondes could have done better, or at least should have related what he didn't know as well as what he could say with reasonable certainty including certain psychological caveats that influence human interaction and individual behavior. Oversimplification only serves to muddle what we do know, not clarify what we don't know. Kudos to Dr. Barondes for his style and his research and synthesis of the FFM, but I'd have to add that this is not a book that reliably explains personality or can be used to determine response to specific personalities.
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VINE VOICEon July 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I seem to be reading a lot of books about personality lately. This one was especially interesting to me, for a lot of reasons. It's written in a very approachable, but not dumbed-down, tone- it's probably a little more text-bookish than some would like, but not quite so academic to be used in a hard-core psychology course, either. It's obvious that the author really knows what he's talking about, and it's refreshing that he is good at bringing his knowledge to a level that even someone who isn't versed in psychology but is interested can understand. With that being said, I did sort of "zone out" while I read the stretch of this book devoted to DNA strands- that is over my head and I admit it, but that didn't detract from what I learned from this book.

It's fascinating to me that there are just a handful of basic traits, but where on a scale each one of us falls, as far as how much of one trait and another we are, that accounts for all the different personalities in the world. Knowing a bit of the vocabulary that professionals use in assessing someone's personality helps make it easier to "make sense of people," rather than just writing them off as an obnoxious jerk, or deciding that this is a person you want to spend time with- this knowledge doesn't change the fact that you'll get along with some people and not others, but this does help quantify why you do or don't. It's also good to use this book's information to "make sense of yourself." In fact, I think that's where this book goes from just another book on personality to true gold. Barondes gives the web address of some actual personality questionnaires (not the kind you'd find on Facebook that tell you which Harry Potter character you are), that help you understand where on each trait scale you fall. I think this can be used as a tool to improve oneself, if you're so inclined, or at least find out that maybe you're not as neurotic as you thought you were, or that you tend to be an avoider. A good take-away point that I got from reading "Making Sense of People"is that although genetics plays some role in personality, a personality can be trained, to some extent, too. So if you're armed with knowing what your strengths and your shortcomings are, you can use that knowledge to train those less desirable aspects of your personality, if you want.
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on November 22, 2011
Barondes' book on the Five Factor Theory is a brief, concise, helpful overview for the non-specialist, with enough anecdotes and examples to convey a sense of how this personality analysis functions. It doesn't discuss much about why people develop these personality traits (causation). It also uses U.S. presidents and other public figures as examples for some of the personality types, which as a psychiatrist Dr. Barondes may be able to do; we psychologists are not ethically permitted to diagnose anyone who is not a patient. The examples do give a colorful and easily understandable picture of how the theory works. The layman should be able to do rudimentary personality categorization on the basis of information in this book. For further reading cf. Theodore Millon's dense tome "Disorders of Personality", an exhaustive and currently the definitive treatment of the subject.
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on June 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really wanted to like this book and get a lot out of it. The description information represented it as being for people to better be able to understand other people.

That's not what I found it to be. There is a lot of scientific information in it, but as far as being able to use it to analyze people's personalities, it seems you would pretty much need to be a psychiatrist. It just doesn't really fit the layperson.

I took some psychology courses in college, and I learned a bit about professionals in the field. They speak a different language. There's language of that sort in the book.

The most interesting thing I got from it is that temperament traits are very largely genetic. But can be hugely altered by experiences, especially bad ones in your youth.

I simply did not find that this book told how to figure out other people's personalities.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 29, 2012
So, I liked this book for the simple fact that it did contain a lot of information. I really didn't find that I could actually make much sense out of anyone that I did understand before reading this book and I am still of the firm belief that the only thing you can ever really expect from people is the unexpected. What I did find interesting about this book was the author's beliefs on how to make sense of people and who he chose to use as examples of this. He is obviously very intelligent and has done an excellent job researching his subject matter. There are times in this book when the information is presented in a very dry and clinical fashion, so if you are looking for a book on the subject with a more conversational tone, this might not be the best choice. I found this book to be interesting and thought provoking, and personally I felt I did learn a few things from it. If you are looking for an informative book on the subject, this is a good choice.
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