Friday, 19 November 2010

Introducing Psychology: a graphic guide – Nigel C. Benson ***

It is almost impossible to rate these relentlessly hip books – they are pure marmite*. The huge Introducing … series (a vast range of books covering everything from Quantum Theory to Islam), previously known as … for Beginners, puts across the message in a style that owes as much to Terry Gilliam and pop art as it does to popular science. Pretty well every page features large graphics with speech bubbles that are supposed to emphasise the point.
Psychology is a difficult topic for this site because, to be honest, it’s not clear that it’s science. If this book is anything to go by, the reason it has a problematic image is that it is a mix of science and philosophy, and all too often the philosophy has too much weight.
Nigel Benson provides a useful summary of the different approaches to psychology (another indicator of its lack of modern scientific credentials – you certainly get disagreements about specific theories in physics, but you don’t get different ‘schools’, always an indicator you are drifting away from science and into philosophy). It was fascinating to see how much certain aspects of modern thinking are influenced by particular aspects of psychology – for example, how behaviourism seems to dominate education and particularly the sort of ‘Super Nanny’, how-to-deal-with-problem-children TV show. I was surprised how much content there was on Freud, all stated without any feeling this was arbitrary made-up rubbish with no scientific basis, with just a paragraph or so saying many don’t consider Freud useful anymore. Puzzling.
As a book it was quite approachable, but it was rather too bitty to get provide an ideal introduction. Now and again there would be some flow of the text, but often it seemed to be made up of a whole series of definitions. The illustrations were also a mix of useful and not. I really had no idea why the first part of the book is narrated by a figure wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask, but then he suddenly disappears. It’s not a particularly pleasant image and I really didn’t feel it helped. (There was extra confusion because the masked face used to be on the cover of the book, and is referred to as such inside, but it isn’t anymore.)
Overall, certainly not one of the best in the series, but will give a useful background on psychology if you want to get a quick fix on what the subject is about.
*Marmite? If you are puzzled by this assessment, you probably aren’t from the UK. Marmite is a yeast-based product (originally derived from beer production waste) that is spread on bread/toast. It’s something people either love or hate, so much so that the company has run very successful TV ad campaigns showing people absolutely hating the stuff…
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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