Book Reviews

Including web-only reviews.

The Cambridge Handbook of Psychology and Economic Behaviour
Alan Lewis (Ed.)
Cambridge University Press; 2008; Hb £80.00

Ask yourself this, is psychology or economics the more rational science? One deals with the complexities of mind and behaviour, the other deals with the complexities of financial systems and monetary activity. One is heavily reliant on the synthetic methods of the natural sciences and a priori hypotheses, the other is naturalistic, analytic and generally looks back in order to predict what is in front.

Of course economics in the midst of a recession, technical or otherwise, is more likely, in Thomas Carlyle’s words, to be viewed as the ‘dismal science’, but there is something about economics that seems to exude rationality and solidity.

This, of course, is reification in its purest form; all that modelling, mapping and forecasting would be fine if the drivers of economic behaviour, which is of course you and me, behaved rationally ourselves. This, for my reading, is the central dilemma at the heart of economics, which the Cambridge Handbook of Psychology and Economic Behaviour seeks to explore. Covering 21 chapters the Handbook covers theory and method, financial and consumer behaviour and the environment, along with the burgeoning field of evolutionary and neuro-economic psychology. 

There are a number of outstanding chapters in this book and the very best of them work because they are about us. The topic may be inter-temporal choice, identity, household consumption or stock markets, but they all tell us something about how we relate both to abstractions such as ‘the market’ or ‘government’ as well as more tangible fields such as cars, houses and partners.

Psychology and Economic Behaviour reminds us that we not only respond to economic dynamics, but that we also create them – justification enough for trying to understand our economic mind.

Reviewed by Robert Hill
who is Principal Clinical Psychologist with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

The Happiness Trap – Based on ACT: A Revolutionary Mindfulness-based Programme for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Russ Harris
Robinson; 2008; Pb £9.99

The ‘happiness trap’ refers  to trying to find happiness by avoiding bad thoughts (using the definition of happiness as feeling good). However, the harder we try to do this, the more bad feelings we create. To avoid this trap, this book uses a different definition of happiness – living a rich and meaningful life.

The therapy is based upon is ACT (A = Accept your thoughts; C = Connect with your values; T = Take effective action). It encourages this telling the reader that it’s OK to feel sad/anxious, it’s just being human, and to be mindful of negative thoughts and emotions. The book then describes the tactics for this acceptance by getting the reader to think whether the thoughts are helpful to you. The final part encourages us to have a value-orientated life, not a goal-orientated one. Although it’s OK to have goals, just focusing on these, prevents immediate reward and can lead to failure; however, if we focus on values, we can begin to live that life now.

You can download chapter 1 and read more information about the book at

Reviewed by Dawn-Marie Walker


The Probabilistic Mind: Prospects for Bayesian Cognitive Science
Nick Chater & Mike Oaksford (Eds.)
Oxford University Press; 2008; Pb £29.95

One of the defining features of the human mind is its capacity to deal with uncertainty. This publication is concerned with describing the probabilistic rules that underlie decision making under uncertainty and other cognitive processes. Bayesian statistics is particularly well-suited to this task, because certain causal inferences can be shown to be equivalent to conditional probabilities.

The contributions of the different authors are organised in five parts. The first one covers the methodological foundations, which makes this volume self-contained, while the four other parts are dedicated to inference, decision making, memory, and causality.

The book mildly suffers from the common pitfalls of an edited volume. It is sometimes difficult to find the common thread in the sequence of chapters. In the introduction, however, the editors succeed in bringing this into a coherent whole. This compendium is therefore recommended to any newcomers in cognitive psychology. With its preliminary chapters on Bayesian statistics and rational analysis, it will make a very good introduction to all researchers and graduate students who are interested in this new exciting field.

Reviewed by Cedric Ginestet


Psychology in Prisons (2nd edn)
David A. Crighton & Graham J. Towl
Blackwell; 2008; Pb £19.99

This book will prove very useful to undergraduate students writing essays and reports, as well as to academics in need of inspiration and guidance in writing for publication. The authors commendably attain a good balance between patronising the reader with obvious statements regarding writing clarity, and being overly complex and inaccessible.

A lovely pace and tone engage the reader in what can be a rather dry topic and make it a pleasure to read. The reader is inspired with confidence that they can emulate the lively writing style used by the authors, and is motivated to begin their own writing. The examples embedded within the text clearly illustrate the points that the authors make, and provide clear guidance for the aspiring writer. The discussion of APA guidelines for writing and referencing serves as both a comprehensive first introduction for students, as well as a good refresher for more experienced writers.

Overall, this book is a great resource for psychology students and academics alike, and would be useful addition to the bookshelf of any psychology student or academic.

Reviewed by Hannah Fawce

Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders:
A Step-by-Step Treatment Manual (4th edn)
David H. Barlow (Ed.)
Guilford Press; 2008; Hb £45.00

This is an authoritative and practical guide to current research evidence and clinical practice in the most common psychological disorders, written by clinicians and researchers. The vast majority of the approaches described are close relations of cognitive behaviour therapy, although they focus on advanced techniques tailored to each presenting problem, rather than on teaching the basics. Some of the literature reviews touch on other therapeutic approaches, but again the focus is on CBT.

The great strength of this book, in my opinion, is that each chapter is centred on a detailed treatment protocol, illustrated by one or more case studies. All chapters include literature reviews; some of these are quite brief, but others are very thorough and provide useful evidence on, for example, the effects on treatment efficacy of the location or frequency of sessions. The detailed information provided means you could choose to use the treatment protocols exactly as they are given, or use the handbook as a resource for new ideas and a shortcut to the research literature.

Each chapter covers largely the same areas, but the structure is inconsistent and there are no chapter contents pages, which makes it very difficult to dip into the book or refer back to anything. My other complaint is the irritating frequency of typographical errors. These issues aside, this book will prove a useful resource for anyone using CBT-based approaches with working-age adults who wants to improve and expand their practice.

Reviewed by Emma Taylor

Web-only reviews

Intelligently written
The Therapeutic Relationship: Perspectives and Themes
Sheila Haugh & Stephen Paul (Eds.)
There is a myriad of literature examining the importance of the therapeutic relationship; however, few cover a broad range of psychotherapeutic approaches and philosophy in the way this one does. Remarkably drawing on aphorisms and reflections from the likes of Rumi, Yalom and Sartre, the chapters are intelligently written and saturated with research and theory.
A captivating array of approaches allows the reader to achieve a well-grounded understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the ‘forces’ within counselling and from psychotherapy, such as person-centred, CBT, psychoanalytic psychotherapy and more philosophically driven existential and gestalt psychotherapy.
The structured chapters offer history and context, overview of interventions, and a review of the strength and weaknesses of the approach and perspective, and afford an enjoyable readability.
As with many edited books, writing styles vary; chapters such as the psychoanalytic psychotherapy are compelling, comprehensive and clear, while there are those which are a little more challenging to follow. With chapters featuring Japanese interpretations and expressions of Western therapy, and the much neglected sociopolitical barriers that act as virtual parameters in clinical practice, this book certainly offers an edge in terms of alternative thought-provoking insight into clinical practice.
Although an overall impressive balanced presentation of perspectives and themes, the opening chapters may have benefited from the omission of the pronounced defiling of CBT and randomised control trials: The closing thought that the ‘relationship is the therapy’, would be well complemented by the possibility that therapeutic technique and the importance of the relationship are not mutually exclusive.

PCCS Books; 2008; Pb £20.00
Reviewed by Jo Roos

Very impressive
Exploring Psychology for AS Level AQA 'A'
Matt Jarvis & Julia Russell

This is a soundly structured textbook with carefully chosen and well-placed illustrations that draw the eye towards salient features. Of immediate appeal is the colour-coded Introduction, which clearly details not only how to use the book but what the illustrations/icons mean. The reader is encouraged to engage in higher-level thinking and directed to think ‘practically’, ‘critically’ and ‘creatively’. These complement each other without being staid, allowing the more proactive reader to truly engage with the topic. Also introduced are advanced secondary research skills of ‘looking further’ and ‘problem solver’ that enable the reader to use linked interactive features to explore psychological topics further. One such link (p.18) makes good use of a popular video website ( with which most readers should be familiar. Key terms and concepts are explained clearly with both classic and new research used to highlight their salience.   Examination skills and revision are not reserved for the concluding section but scattered throughout as and when appropriate, allowing the reader to make links with each chapter. Overall the book is very impressive and would be an asset to any student or teacher of AS psychology. 

Folens; 2008; Pb £16.99
Reviewed by Pia Lee-Wilson

Celebrating individuality
The Myriad Gifts of Asperger’s Syndrome
John M. Ortiz

This book is a pure celebration of the gifts, talents and quirks of individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (AS) and high-functioning autism (HFA). There is an emphasis on the employability of these individuals, due to such characteristics as loyalty, attention to detail and unrelenting enthusiasm for certain subject matters.
We learn about Suelan, whose powerful olfactory skills saved her family's life from leaking gas. There's Tevin, who developed his school's approved fire exit routes, drastically reducing evacuation time. With no formal music training, Quentin has absolute pitch and is physically pained by instruments just slightly out of tune.
This book is not a collection of  ‘idiot savant’ accounts compiled through clinical experience. The stories span an array of AS and HFA qualities, from super-speed language learning to emotional sensitivity and touching descriptions of AS. Although enveloped in individuality and charm, the accounts are very subjective.
My only disappointment was that not all ‘myriad gifts’ of the autistic spectrum were included. I was left wanting to extend the exploration to those individuals who do not have a high-functioning diagnosis.

Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2008; Pb £12.99
Reviewed by Rosie Powling

Fascinating account
First Impressions
Nalini Ambady & John J. Skowronski (Eds.)

First impressions are very powerful in our daily encounters, from determining if we trust someone to whether we will succeed in an interview. In this book, experts in the field include up-to-date psychological research to provide the ‘big picture’. The research is drawn from many different areas of psychology so this book will appeal to a wide audience.
Part 1 addresses the evolutionary, biological and social neuroscientific theories of first impressions. Part 2 examines the accuracy, validity and behavioural consequences of first impressions, such as how impressions formed by interviewers on job applicants alter the way they conduct the interview. The final two parts describe how first impressions are influenced by factors such as facial cues and our environment.
All in all this book provides a fascinating account of theory and recent research in the area. The emerging research of first impressions on virtual environments, such as personal websites and social networking sites, will be a particularly interesting line of research to watch out for.

Guilford Press; 2008; Hb £30.50
Reviewed by Elaine Ferguson

What works
Preventing Suicide: The Solution Focused Approach
John Hendon

Most Therapists rarely come across suicidal clients; the word suicide engenders a certain amount of fear. Historically, clinicians and training courses have paid scant attention to the subject with the exception of those directly involved in the mental health sector.
If this book does one thing then, it succeeds in helping to breaking through the veil of mystery and suspicion surrounding the topic of suicide. Whilst technically interesting, it is a pity that much of the background and statistical data used by the author is out of date.
The book centres on the ‘solution focused approach’. Brief strategic focused therapy (BSFT) is not in the mainstream of therapy process, and the author admits there is a serious lack of research to inform psychology of the effectiveness of the process. It can be argued that the generation of ‘new’ forms of therapy are predominantly an exercise in marketing.
In the context of suicide prevention, BSFT may offer valuable contributions to the knowledge base of eclectic practitioners by adding to the view of ‘what works’.

Wiley; 2008; Pb £26.99
Reviewed by Ian Clancy

Towering Ravens updated
Uses and Abuses of Intelligence: Studies Advancing Spearman and Raven’s Quest for Non-Arbitrary Metrics
John Raven & Jean Raven (Eds.)

My first exposure to Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM) was in 1945 in the British Army. This book is a collection of studies by 27 authors from countries ranging from Australia to the USA.
Part III is entitled ‘Stability and Change in RPM Norms across Time and Culture’ stressing, inter alia, the importance of cultural differences, of sampling, and the need to restandardise tests. John Raven criticises those researchers who falsely combined scores on subtests: ‘…they might have noticed that it was essentially only one component of “intelligence” (namely, educative ability) which was increasing’. Part III contains chapters reporting data from Slovenia, Turkey, Kuwait, South Africa, Malaysia, India, etc.
Chapter I outlines what the RPM tests set out to do (there are three basic versions) and summaries the research resulting in the development of the latest version – the SPM Plus. Data from many countries show that ‘the tests work in the same way ¬– measure the same thing – in a wide range of cultural, socio-economic, and ethnic groups despite the (sometimes huge) variation in mean scores between these groups’. The predictive validity of ‘general cognitive ability’ (Spearman’s g), the ease with which RPM tests can be administered to those unable to read, or who do not speak the language of the administrator, and the solution of  ‘change problems’ (e.g. differential reactions to drugs, stress, therapy, etc.) all receive insightful comment. The book is dedicated to Charles Spearman and John Carlyle Raven:  it would make them proud. It deserves an index and a longer review. 

Reviewed by Stanley Richardson
Royal Fireworks Press; 2008; Pb £14.99

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