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Uncovering Lives: The Uneasy Alliance of Biography and Psychology Paperback – Sep 1 1996


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The tradition of formal biography is rooted in Plutarch's Lives, and for many years, biographers strived for objectivity, decorum, and a certain amount of reticence regarding the murkier aspects of the personalities and lives of their subjects. That all changed with the advent of psychology. Once biographers began to delve into their subjects' psyches, a new and often controversial genre, psychobiography, was born. Psychobiography has flourished over the past 20 years, but like all endeavors, it has yielded dross along with the gold. Elms evaluates good and bad psychobiography and offers suggestions for improving its quality, validity, and usefulness. He believes that psychology has a permanent place in the pages of biographies, but that it must incorporate an "eclectic diversity" of interpretations and avoid reductionism. Elms proposes a responsible methodology for psychobiography and provides some instructive examples of his own in analyses of such figures as B. F. Skinner, L. Frank Baum, Nabokov, and various science-fiction writers, including Isaac Asimov. Leaving the literary world, Elms enters politics and discusses Jimmy Carter and George Bush. In each instance, he considers the ethics, viability, and great value of high-quality psychobiography. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Psychologist Elms wants to transform bestselling, warts-and- all biographers (``pathographers,'' as Joyce Carol Oates has labeled them) into sensitive, thoughtful chroniclers of textured lives. Sounds impractical--but Elms is mighty convincing. Part of Elms's (Psychology/Univ. of California, Davis; Personality in Politics, not reviewed) book is a how-to: The best biographers, he says, draw on many theories, not just Freudian psychoanalysis; rely on scientific method rather than speculation; look for psychological health as well as pathologies; and explain individuals in terms of their complexity, rather than reducing their motives to single sources such as greed or vanity. After explaining the principles of good biography, Elms practices what he has preached in brief psychobiographical studies of politicians (George Bush, Saddam Hussein, and Alexander Haig), science fiction/fantasy writers (including Isaac Asimov and L. Frank Baum), and psychological theorists (Freud, Jung, B.F. Skinner). The most convincing application concerns Jimmy Carter; with the benefit of 18 years' hindsight, Elms reevaluates the analysis he made nine days before the 1976 presidential election. He was especially prescient in evaluating Carter's faith: While other biographers worried about whether a born-again Christian would turn a secular government into a revival meeting, Elms understood that Carter should not be defined solely by his religious beliefs. Elms writes throughout with wit as well as insight. He comments that he had long been tempted to use Woody Allen as a subject for psychobiography--``except that the connections between his life and his work looked too simple...all up there on the screen.'' But, Elms notes, after Allen transformed his fantasies into reality by falling in love with Mia Farrow's teenage daughter, he appeared ``rather less simple than before. Or maybe he's so simple that his sudden simplemindedness itself requires an explanation.'' One of the best books ever written about biography, psycho- or otherwise. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
If you like Psychobiography... May 11 2000
By Kristen B Brooks - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Psychobiography is a sometimes suspect practice heavily rooted in Freudian psychology. This, initally, may deter some from embracing psychobiography as a valid form of biography, let alone a pshychological analysis. Yet, Alan Elms manages to not only allay some of the hesitations and frustrations surrounding psychobiography, he also convinces us of some valied points of development of many, and varied, individuals. From Issac Assimov to Leonardo DaVinci to President Bush, Elms manages to allure us into accepting psychobiography with both his solid research basis and his witty style. His analysis of Freud, and especially of Freud's violations of his own proscriptions for psychobiography, is particularly illuminating and, in many regards, comical. Elms avoids drowning in theory, but manages to apply enough at apropos moments that we are secure in the knowledge that this is, indeed, and psychologically based approach. All around a good book for those interested in psychobiography.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A must have for psychology students! Nov. 24 2013
By G. Smart - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting well composed guide to the examination of personalities! Elms keeps a layman's vernacular but represents the paradigms well.


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