- Paperback: 502 pages
- Publisher: The Guilford Press; 1 edition (May 21, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0898622018
- ISBN-13: 978-0898622010
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #950,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Greatness: Who Makes History and Why 1st Edition
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From Library Journal
Simonton (psychology, Univ. of California-Davis) calls this a psychology of history and not a work on psychohistory, though he includes a discussion of the latter. The subtitle of the book might more accurately read "who makes it into the history books and why." The individuals mentioned include many famous scientists and representatives of the arts and entertainment, though none is discussed in depth; little is included about social and political change. Simonton emphaszies such factors as genetics, family, education, personality, and motivational differences in relation to outstanding fame or achievement, and he makes some strange digressions, such as a computer analysis of Shakespeare's sonnets. Written with both a popular and professional audience in mind, this is suitable, though not essential, for public and academic libraries.
R. James Tobin, Univ. of Wisconsin Lib., Milwaukee
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Simonton's book is so comprehensive and so engagingly written that, if major research universities regularly offered courses in the psychology of history, Greatness: Who Makes History and Why would be widely adopted as a text. The book is, in short, a tour de force: spirited, erudite, and entertaining - well within the reach of advanced undergraduates." --Philip E. Tetlock
"Fascinating, thorough, varied, readable, good text for students." --Joel Funk, Plymouth State College, New Hampshire
"Everything you wanted to know--and more--about the great historical figures who have shaped culture and society, Dean K. Simonton, our most prolific psychologist in the field of creativity studies, has assembled here a treasure-trove of facts and observations that will delight the reader, and serve as a useful reference for many years to come." --Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, author of FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
"Dean Simonton's book on Greatness is a tour de force that explores the many aspects of greatness, including intelligence, creativity, leadership, social forces, and more. The book combines Simonton's own pathbreaking analyses of greatness with those of others, providing essential reading for anyone interested in what makes some people stand out from the rest. The book is written in a lucid, engaging style that will interest laypeople as well as professionals in all disciplines who wish to know what makes some people stand out from the rest." --Robert J. Sternberg, Ph.D., Yale University, author of The Nature Of Creativity
"Dean Keith Simonton has long been esteemed within the social sciences for his pioneering studies of creativity, leadership, and genius. Now he has produced a fascinating, accessible, and authoritative survey of work in this area. Students and seasoned experts are equally in his debt." --Howard Gardner, Ph.D., Harvard University, Graduate School of Education
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The drawback of the work is that it may lead you to think that we can really know what greatness is. Simonton has done his research and offers many arguments along these lines, but I couldn't help feeling at the end of it, that though I had a better understanding of different aspects of greatness--intelligence, productivity, charisma etc.--it wasn't entirely clear how they fit together in the form of an individual. There is still no sure way (and there will probably never be) of knowing beforehand whether someone will be great. Greatness cannot be made with any amount of certainty, even if we have all the ingredients (which we don't). Luck and contingency play too large a role.
Nevertheless this is a fun read and you can learn a lot!
With psychological perspective I mean that the book is somewhat narrow. It does not deal with social networks and how a network can lift an individual. It does not deal with luck or interaction between personal traits and situation. This is a major weakness to understand greatness, but one book cannot cover it all. Still I would have been more comfortable if the author himsel was aware of these limitations.
One of the clearest examples is his assertion that childhood adversity builds character. He presents evidence that eminent figures were unusually likely to have had a parent die early, and describes this as the "most impressive proof" of his claim. He ignores the possibility those people come from families with a pattern of taking sufficiently unusual risks to explain that evidence.
In other places, he makes mistakes which seemed reasonable when the book was published, such as "Mendelian laws of inheritance are blind to whether an individual is first-born or later-born" (parental age has a measurable effect on mutation rates).
He avoids some of the worst mistakes that a psychology of history could make, such as trying to psychoanalyze individuals without having enough information about them.
He mentions some approaches to analyzing presidential addresses and corporate letters to stockholders, which have some potential to be used in predicting whether leaders have the appropriate personality for their jobs. I wonder what would happen if many voters/stockholders demanded that leaders pass tests of this nature (I'm assuming the tests can be scored objectively, but that may be shaky assumption). I'm confident that we'd get leaders with rhetoric that passes those tests. Would that simply mean the leaders change their rhetoric, or would it be hard enough to maintain a mismatch between rhetoric and thought patterns that we'd get leaders with better thought patterns?
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