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Interesting But Rationalises
on October 18, 2012
This book is basically about the psychological phenomena surrounding power : the drives common in those who seek it; the biochemical effects - as observed via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - of having and exercising power on various parts of the brains of its holders; changes in the the external behaviour of people with power and without it; factors affecting one's drive for power; and, principally, the need to have restrictions of those who exercise power.
This book has very interesting first and last chapters.
The first deals with something many of us have experienced - the burden of expectation. Using examples of both celebrities and friends/patients from the author's own experience, the destructiveness of overhigh expectation for children of famous people is explored. One thing sadly missing in this chapter is the final part of the story of Robertson's young patient, "Tony", whose "under-achieving" was revealed to be no more than a false expectation of inherited ability by his high-achieving parents. The author could (and really should) have checked to see if his proscribed therapy for "Tony" really brought about the desired effect.
But the other chapters all drag a little - perhaps none more so than the one where he uses Tony Blair as an example of how people in power become so addicted to it that they lose the trust and support of some vital friends : in his case, Bill Clinton.
Any book that uses celebrity examples runs the risk of losing both the reader's empathy and agreement despite the quality of the arguments offered : celebrities are really not living like the rest of us. This is the case in this chapter, and indeed also in parts of other chapters.
But overall this book is quite informative, not least about functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and its contributions to modern psychology. It makes some telling points about people's behaviour on attaining power - whether they want power for self-gratification (p-power types) or to benefit others (s-power types).
In this book one detects at times - not unusual with psychologists - a tendency to rationalise as a psychological issue what most lay people would describe as a straightforward moral/ethical failing in people. When a person finds him-/herself doing something that hurts others just for the sense of power and won't stop, this is not, fundamentally, a psychological problem. Neither does the cure involve therapy - at least not in the accepted sense of the word !
The final chapter is very readable and summarises the author's desire for imposing more stays on those given power in modern society - not just politicians but press-barons, judiciary, parole officers, teachers and, not least, parents.
Although not an outstanding work of its kind, this is a thought-provoking book.