Hans Eysenck (1916-1997) was one of the most important and influential psychologists of the 20th century, being at the time of his retirement the most-cited social scientist in the World. He was especially known for his view that of psychology should be subject to the same criteria as any other science (e.g. it should produce falsifiable predictions); and for his refusal to subordinate scientific truth to political considerations.
In the course of his career he produced several pioneering books demystifying psychology for the general public: in particular a seminal trilogy (later expanded to a quartet) for Penguin. He was an exceptionally lucid and entertaining writer, and the books sold millions of copies and were translated into several other languages.
None the less, all in Eysenck's career was not sweetness and light. "Controversial" is an adjective that a newspaper cannot be sued for, and to few scientists was it more frequently applied than Eysenck.
Excluding the present opus, there have been two biographies of Eysenck, including his own¹; but that of Gibson², although containing valuable information, is now seriously out of date.
The contents here are as follows:
01 Introduction 02 Presenting a German past 03 The accidental psychologist 04 Dimensions of personality 05 The biology of personality 06 Clinical partisan 07 Mr. Controversial: the psychology of politics 08 Mr. Controversial: race and IQ 09 Smoking, cancer and the final frontier 10 Conclusions
Primary sources Bibliography Index
Eysenck's work and assertions are gone through in considerable detail, and contrasted with those of his colleagues and rivals. Sources and attributions are for the most part careful footnoted, making it very easy to check or follow up any topic.
The general tone is critical, I would even say hostile, tempered by a certain grudging respect. The views of his critics are given a full airing. Among the charges levelled at Eysenck are that:
• When doubted or questioned, his attitude was adversarial rather than conciliatory. • He tended to disregard any data that didn't fit his theories. • He seldom admitted he was wrong.
To evaluate all the claims and counter-claims described in the course of this book is well beyond the capacity of a review. Never the less, the detailed notes make it easily possible to pursue any particular topic, and for this the author should be commended.
It did seem to me that he gave Eysenck insufficient credit for debunking previous faulty work — a task that Eysenck, with his firm grasp of statistics, was extremely skilled at. For instance, although subsequent research may have shown the causal relation between smoking and cancer, much of the original research established merely correlation, and Eysenck was perfectly right to point this out and give alternative hypotheses³.
Eysenck was an extremely prolific writer, both professionally and for the general public. This makes it very easy — even for the casual reader — to obtain his viewpoint, which seldom paid much attention to those of his critics.
These latter views, however, are mostly buried in professional journals*. I therefore believe that the present work is extremely helpful in enabling both the pro and con of Eysenck's work to be evaluated; and so, although I by no means agree with all of the views expressed, I give it five stars.
*I am not of course speaking of the ad hominem and factually void attacks of the so-called New Left, which are without interest.
P.S. For a list of Eysenck's popular books on psychology, see my Listmania.
An impressive biography. Impression is that Buchanan has not only read most (if not all) of what Eysenck wrote, but also most of the relevant work by his admirers and adverseries. That might suggest a ponderous book, but it's very readable. I did an MPhil in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London in 1974-5 when Eysenck was already getting rather marginalised, and I realise now that I did not appreciate what a large part he had played in making behaviour therapy an acceptable alternative to both drug treatment and psychotherapy. I also did not realise just how much empirical work he had done in personality theory, psychometrics and electrophysiological correlates of these. The biographer steers a steady course between admiration for Eysenck's enormous intellectual powers and communication skill, and documentation of his flaws; alas the prodigious output was not accompanied by attention to detail, and his attitude seemed to be 'never mind the quality, feel the width'. He also seemed to enjoy a good academic fight just for the sake of it, and would challenge the status quo throughout his career. He had some good ideas, and his early popularist books inspired a whole generation of future psychologists. However, it was left up to others to do the research properly and so to sort out what was solid and what was not - often a frustrating process that took years. In his later years he got foolishly embroiled in debates about race and IQ - a topic he had not ever researched - and then took funds from tobacco companies for work disputing a direct link between smoking and cancer. A shame that someone who started out clearly pointing out the lack of evidence base for psychoanalysis should end up defending the indefensible.
Very detailed account with considerable repetition. Not the most readable style but a rather heavy academic one. I gave it 4stars for the hard work obvious from the great deal of information gathered. Likely to be the standard work if not last word on this very controversial psychologist.