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Greatness: Who Makes History and Why 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0898622010
ISBN-10: 0898622018
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Editorial Reviews

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.


"This is a book that might be used as a text or as a reference but here's the great part: It can be read for enjoyment!...Simonton has created a monument to completeness and complexity, but it is highly readable. The book is replete with fascinating tables, lists, and charts about individuals deemed as great who share a common characteristic....The book is very well written, full of examples and creative interpretation, persuasive, and up to date. This is a great book about greatness." --Malcolm James Ree in Personnel Psychology

"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

"Only a great book could do justice to greatness throughout the ages, and Simonton has produced one."--Readings
(Readings 1994-05-23)

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Product Details

  • 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: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,061,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I must say that this is one of the best psychology textbooks that I own. While most of them sit on a shelf, only to be picked up occasionally for reference, Dr. Simonton's book is one that I've read a number of times... and I'm not even a psychologist.
It is written in a style that is both entertaining and informative and the progression of topics is perfect. The book satisfies the universal interest we have in those who are great, those who can be and those who could have been.
I am most impressed with the statistics and tables that he presents. Even if you like to just "look at the pictures," they still convey the most interesting things.
It has provided me with hours of conversation which is a definitive way to judge a non-fiction book. The best ones are those that you think and talk about.
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Format: Paperback
...GREATNESS ofcourse. The back cover (of the edition I read) contains a comment which alludes to this being a "ground-breaking" work. With all due respect I don't think it is. Simonton obviously knows his stuff and anyone reading this book will benefit from his extensive knowledge on topics from ancient philosophy to modern substance abuse. What the book does provide is an expansive overview of the subject (greatness/psychology) and the first half of the book I could not put down. After a while however one tires of reading about American presidents ad nauseaum and realizes that although Simonton presents a lot of supporting evidence and draws much on source materials he lacks direction and pulls his punches. His value judgments and observations although not obtrusive sometimes lack the insight to be truly "great". The conclusion is particularly lack-lustre. I admire what Simonton has done and written and admit to having learnt much from this book. To the general reader it does offer a good background knowledge of psychology (more so than history) but in the end lacks any profundity. Perhaps this is not the fault of Simonton at all, the subject matter precludes hard and fast conclusions. This book is worth a read and can at times be very inspiring, it's not however the final word yet.
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Format: Paperback
Simonton's book is bound to overwhelm you. There is so much information packed into this tome that I found myself jumping from chapter to chapter. But a lot of this is fascinating. If you want to know about the correlation between intelligence and productivity or birth order and greatness, you can find it here. There is a treasury of great anecdotes about great people (my favorite is Brahms's comment about treading in the footsteps of a giant--Beethoven), and the book is a fast read (page-by-page that is--it's quite a lengthy book).
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!
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Format: Paperback
This is a good in-depth overview of why some people become great, but only from a psychological perspective. The book is 15 years old so it is also getting dated since the book is referencing a lot of research. Still worh reading if you are interested in the subject.

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.
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