Book reviews

This month's reviews, including several web-only reviews.

A revolutionary lens:

Revolution in Psychology
Ian Parker

These (roughly) 250 pages of subversion were long overdue, like red graffiti on the pristine white walls of the psy-professions (and I am not referring to or judging the book by its cover!). There is no respite from Parker’s revolutionary fervour, and, interestingly, its targets include but go beyond the predictable – like the experimental paradigm, or psychology’s anxiety to be accepted as a ‘proper’ science or, just to name a few more ‘usual suspects’, the psychiatric machinery tout court, and the classist assumptions underlying the ‘talking cures’.

The genealogy of how collective action (unless initiated and sanitised by psychologists) has been constructed as deviant so that psychology could help shore up instead of changing the status quo is one of the high points of the book. The individual who, Parker argues, ‘might be tempted into striking up a relationship with others’ is discouraged by mainstream psychology, always on hand to point out the dangers by means of pathologising labels, such as ‘group think’, ‘deindividuation’, ‘diffusion of responsibility’ – and to help define what appropriate, ‘normal’ behaviour should be. Thus, Milgram’s experiments on obedience and Zimbardo’s prison experiment are linked in textbooks and in the popular imagination ‘precisely because one gives sense to the other, the sense that social behaviour is bad for you and for others’. The documented fact that many participants in the obedience experiments refused to comply is usually downplayed, while Zimbardo’s study did not allow for the pocket of leeway to organise collective action people would have in the real world, ‘in order to drum home the miserable message about the power of social roles over the individual’.

Critical psychology does not escape the revolutionary lens (or mill, if you prefer): Parker acknowledges that some radical perspectives have been introduced into psychology, but ‘critical psychology’ has also meant, at best, merely a new ‘subdiscipline’, with the danger of creating a new orthodoxy; and, at worst, a race to the latest and trendiest ‘theory’ to cause ripples in mainstream psychology, but in the manner of ‘academic parlour games’ of possibly little use to people. He is equally vociferous about the unwarranted equivalence of qualitative psychology with ‘critical’ and progressive, and about a ‘reflexivity’ that has moved away from its raison d'être – an acknowledgement of the researcher’s position and values, to become a box-ticking exercise, a perfunctory nod to the confessional-box.  

Some of these arguments are not new or are an extension of concerns put forward elsewhere by others, including Parker himself (e.g. in his 1989 book The Crisis in Modern Social Psychology and How to End It) – and, in line with the genealogical endeavour of the volume, Parker duly acknowledges in a series of scholarly and impressive footnotes the origins of these arguments and sometimes counterarguments and tributaries and offshoots, providing the reader with the opportunity to explore those avenues. While his 1989 book, a predecessor in spirit, featured recommendations (however debatable and arguably amenable to deconstruction themselves), the reader may feel somewhat dismayed that here, when Parker has finished with the whole discipline of psychology, there is nothing but rubble and an angst-ridden ‘whither now?’ left, but just as well – a revolution can be instigated, not prescribed, and the same goes for its aftermath. So, school’s out – (revolution-informed) reconstruction starts here!

Pluto Press; 2007; Pb £15.99
Reviewed by Toni Brennan who is in the Department of Psychology, University of Surrey

Invaluable reference:
Handbook of Psychophysiology (3rd edn)
John T. Cacioppo, Louis G. Tassinary & Gary G. Berntson (Eds.)

My cardiovascular physiology professor in graduate school used to put his own spin on a classic adage: ‘A picture is worth a 1000 words, but a graph is worth 10,000 words.’ When trying to convey psychophysiology, a publisher should adhere to this quote in that visual aids greatly enhance comprehension of biological concepts. Most of the authored chapters are well presented in both the writing and graphics. However, Cambridge only offers four pages in full colour out of 866 pages of text, which may disappoint those seeking a fully-featured reference.

A majority of the chapters are well referenced and balanced without excessive self-referencing. The book is quite comprehensive and dense with information that first presents systemic psychophysiology, organised by underlying systems, followed by thematic psychophysiology which is guided by research topics. Another strength is the final section that serves as a DIY of psychophysiology, which covers experimental design and data analysis. Overall, the book is an essential, invaluable reference for psychophysiology researchers.

Cambridge University Press; 2007; Hb £95.00
Reviewed by Andrew J. Wawrzyniak

A welcome newcomer:
Personality and Individual Differences
Tomás Chamorro-Premuzic

This book offers a wealth of up-to-date literature from the field of differential psychology. The textbook has a clear structure, combining rich detail with an easy-going style. Personality, intelligence, psychopathology, motivation and mood states, creativity, leadership and interests are all covered in detail within the book’s 12 chapters, and each chapter is a self-contained learning framework.

The textbook is arranged in such a way as to aid the reader’s learning at every opportunity. Each chapter is organised around core ideas outlined at the start, leading through to a detailed analysis of these ideas, using relevant and contemporary literature, and ending with a detailed summary. Furthermore, key readings are suggested for each topic to enthuse the reader to branch out and widen their knowledge base.

Chamorro-Premuzic’s continued use of real-world issues and problems in order to highlight individual differences offers a fresh approach to the topic area. Thoughts and concepts are therefore grounded in reality and ultimately more accessible to the reader. A well-written informative text, this book is a welcome newcomer to the field of individual differences.

BPS Blackwell; 2007; Pb £19.99
Reviewed by Helen Henshaw

Violence isn’t the worst part:
Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life
Evan Stark

I was keen to review this book, having recently had to consider how best to address the risk of future domestic violence in men who are characteristically violent. I am glad that I have. The book claims that, despite the ‘domestic violence revolution’, owing to a focus on physical violence, interventions have failed to improve women’s long-term safety in relationships. The central premise is that what men do to women is less important than what they prevent women from doing for themselves.

The emphasis on the processes that underpin coercive behaviours rather than the behaviour itself is appealing.  The mix of research, case material and the author’s compelling perspective make the book very readable and engaging. The book encapsulates core themes and provides a model that facilitates a greater understanding of the interpersonal processes involved.  Coercive Control would be relevant to anyone working therapeutically with adults, but particularly those working with the sorts of relationship situation the book so eloquently describes. It will certainly be influential in modifying my own clinical practice. 

Oxford University Press; 2007; Hb £19.99
Reviewed by Kerry Beckley

Fantastic failures:
We Cannot Fail: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Madness
Geoff Powter

This book is a great read about fanatical mountaineers and explorers, all of whom died in their attempts or came to a sad end. Powter gives detailed and sympathetic accounts of the lives and exploits of various ill-fated heroes or daredevils, including: Solomon Andrée, who starved on a failed polar balloon trip; Donald Crowhurst who jumped overboard instead of facing up to his deceit; Jean Batten, the solo aviatrix who later died of a neglected wound; Claudio Corti, who led his companions to their death on the north face of the Eiger; and Guy Waterman and his sons, driven and disturbed climbers with unsatisfactory lives.Powter is a climber who writes engagingly about the mountains, and the pull of outdoor adventures. He is also a clinical psychologist, and discusses the drive to succeed that consumes some people. The level of that discussion is aimed at the layperson, and psychologists would probably want some more detailed analysis of the personality defects or psychiatric disorders of his chosen characters. He tells us that Crowhurst was bipolar, and Wilson cyclothymic (low-grade bipolar); that the Watersons inherited mood swings and a self-destructive streak, and Johnny was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Almost all the characters suffered the loss or absence of a father in childhood, and Powter wonders whether they were searching for the lost male presence in their lives through their macho expeditions. The parental loss may also have caused chronic depression – though he states that the Watersons’ moods were inherited. Some of the characters were just unlucky or eccentric, and others clearly mad, but at the end of the day ‘the fine line between adventure and madness’ remains undefined.

Robinson; 2007; Pb £8.99
Reviewed by Helen Ross


Just in:

Safety at the Sharp End Flin, R. et al.
The Psychology of Female Violence Motz, A.
Music, Language and the Brain Patel, A.D.
Imaginative Minds Roth, I. (Ed.)
Children’s Learning in a Digital World Willoughby, T. & Wood, E. (Eds.)
To review any of these books, e-mail [email protected]
For a full list, see
Send books for potential review to The Psychologist,
48 Princess Road East, Leicester LE1 7DR

Web-only reviews 

No need to feel daunted…
The Mathematics of Behavior
Earl Hunt

This new volume shed some fresh light on some old tools. In this book, we are presented with a comprehensive review of some commonly used mathematical tools in the behavioural sciences.
Hunt, from the outset, sets himself a difficult challenge. He wants to convince the reader of the tremendous potential of mathematical thinking to solve scientific problems in general, and psychological problems in particular.
Logically, Hunt opens his demonstration with a clear example of the power of mathematics: Eratosthenes' calculation of the Earth's dimension. He then plunges into the heart of his subject by showing how probability can be used to measure memory recollections. He succeeds in cramming into the ensuing 300 pages the maths used in psychophysics, models of development, non-linear models, decision theory, Bayesian statistics, multidimensional scaling, item response theory, Hebbian algorithms, and even some artificial intelligence.
Hunt is resolutely eclectic in tone. Although you may find irritating this whimsical juxtaposition of subjects, the author never ceases to be stimulating. In fact, this is exactly why the book is so pleasant to read. Hunt never fully explores one specific subject in depth. He instead allows you to drink from a range of different sources, without ever quenching your curiousity.
Please do not be daunted by the book's title. The author does not assume any prior knowledge beyond A-level mathematics. And most of the time, he provides welcome refreshers before introducing any new subject.
For anyone with a bit of liking for mathematics and some interest in statistics, this book will make a compelling read. Since it is a good introduction to a wealth of mathematical concepts commonly used in psychological research, I would recommend this volume to all graduate students and researchers.
Cambridge University Press; 2007; Pb US$34.99
Reviewed by Cedric Ginestet

Simplicity meets rigour
Life Coaching Skills: How to Develop Skilled Clients
Richard Nelson-Jones

It is refreshing to read a book that exceeds your expectations, but this book ‘does what it says on the cover’ and then some. The author’s work is scholarly. It is well up to date with timely research and conceptually well worked through; whilst the temptation to be overly technical, or indeed verbose, is circumvented by a refreshing accessibility that helps its educational value for the widest possible audience. As a result I would recommend this book for those just starting out with life coaching, as well as the more experienced practitioner. It is well worth the money.
Richard Nelson-Jones takes the reader through an engaging history of life coaching, as well as teasing apart the differences between counselling, psychotherapy and indeed life coaching.  Although he does make it clear in the introduction that the focus is Anglo-Australian, the book would have benefited from a few examples of the kinds of life coaching challenges faced by various ethnicities within those national contexts. There is a tinge of an ethno-centric bias. For example, most of the coaches and clients have fairly traditional anglicised names, and there is something potentially valuable about how individuals from different ethnic backgrounds and life histories are seeking life coaching and thereby navigating their lives in our multiracial nations. To be fair, the issues of gender are not overlooked in the same way, and there are some significant insights included to this end.
The author includes a most accessible four-stage life coaching model, and there are excellent chapters that unpack an impressive range of coaching tools, techniques and skills for the reader. What also makes this book a real cracker is that it is packed with 14 developmental activities to help develop the core skills required. The book is that good that it is almost worth the modest investment for these alone!
Evidently, the author has genuine embodied wisdom in this growing and important area, and for interested psychologists, they will be very happy with their purchase. That said I think a few more diagrams or schematics would have also added learning transfer value, although I am aware that I have a preference to encode my learning pictorially. Perhaps I am not the only one.
In our current age of growing demands on the psychology professional I was very pleased to see a complete chapter dedicated to what we really mean by the notion of professional ethics. This topic is covered very mindfully and compreheniselvly and tackles all of the practical and values-led issues head-on with real candour. It moves beyond the usual trite recommendation of including a short ‘check-list’ of espoused values and ethics, and cleverly extends the discussion and debate that takes the reader to a genuine point of self-reflection. As the reader you are left with some first-class material on what it means to be a professional, when one is faced with real ethical problems and inherent creative tensions between those values.
This book would be a wise investment for those interested in the growing field of life coaching. I would recommend it. A significant contribution to the field, and a real delight to read and enjoy.
Sage; 2007; Pb £17.99
Reviewed by Jason Nickels

Three from the FE toolkit
E-Learning in FE
John Whalley, Theresa Welch & Lee Williamson
Continuum; 2006; PB £12.99

Teaching Adults
Amanda Hayes
Continuum; 2006; PB £12.99   

FE Lecturer’s Survival Guide
Angela Steward
Continuum; 2006; PB £12.99   

The publications by Whalley et al., Hayes and Steward are part of the Essential FE Toolkit Series and explore three aspects of teaching and learning in post-16 education: technology in education, the adult learner and the FE lecturer’s main challenges.
E-learning experts John Whalley and colleagues discuss the use of ICT tools and software packages in FE teaching in an accessible fashion, sometimes punctuated by humorous remarks. Chapters cover ‘digital classrooms’, virtual learning environments, online chat and discussion forums, accessibility and availability of web-based means of support as well as blended models of tuition. Figures, paragraphs in bullet points and a glossary of the technical terms and acronyms ease the readers’ understanding, especially for lecturers not yet acquainted with technology.
Amanda Hayes discusses issues concerning adult learners in FE. She begins outlining the main differences between teenage and adult learners, in terms of personal expectations, external commitments and therefore needs and learning styles. Each chapter targets an aspect of adult education: academic vs vocational education and its relation with the learner’s workplace; marketing research to investigate adult students’ demand; reconciling attendance with work/family commitments; tutorial and peer support; the importance of regular feedback and acknowledging achievement to boost the learner’s confidence. Social issues and current legislations are also discussed: managing gender, age and ethnic differences and disability. Each chapter contains checklists with the ‘dos and don’ts’ for lecturers and ways to deal with the themes discussed. As a teacher and adult distance-learner, I was surprised not to find a section dedicated to distance learning, a popular option amongst adults with work/family commitments, although it is covered by Whalley and colleagues.
Angela Steward’s ‘survival guide’ does not target a specific issue in FE. Drawing from her own experience, she analyses a variety of challenging and stressful issues faced by FE lecturers throughout the academic year, from managing workloads and deadlines to maintaining relationships with students, colleagues and managers; from networking to creating a fruitful educational environment and to coping with the changes in perceiving the lecturer’s role, from the traditional view of an authoritative figure in a one-way relationship with ‘passive’ learners, to being involved in a dynamic two-way process. From ‘teaching’ to ‘help learning’.
The books discuss different educational matters in a down-to-earth, enjoyable and schematic fashion. They should appear on the shelves of experienced and inexperienced FE teachers as well as managers and educational researchers.
Reviewed by Tania Heap

A challenging re-examination
Talking About Race: Community Dialogue and the Politics of Difference
Katherine Cramer Walsh
Having recently returned to the UK after living and working in Afghanistan for the past two years I was intrigued by the title of this book. I have often wondered; as our cities become increasingly diverse, do communities actually choose to promote interracial interaction? And if so what purpose does it serve?  In Talking About Race, Katherine Cramer Walsh addresses this very question and examines, in depth, what actually goes on when people ‘talk about race’.  
Walsh lays out her study and its findings in 10 chapters, each addressing different aspects of dialogues on race. Of particular interest to me were chapters 6 and 8. In chapter 6 ‘Negotiating unity and difference’ Walsh reveals the constant struggle between the desire to find common ground and yet respect difference. In chapter 8 ‘Authority and legitimacy in dialogue’, Walsh’s findings demonstrate that people make appeals to their racial differences in order to legitimise their arguments. Some of the other chapters were far less interesting, as Walsh delves into the details of dialogue and politics; however, her brilliant summaries of each chapter enables you to still understand her argument without having to make yourself read every little bit.
Walsh’s findings challenge the popular belief that unity is the only way forward. Instead Walsh argues for a practical politics of difference forcing us to re-examine the value of discussion and the crucial role of conflict in deliberative democracy.  For anyone who has an interest in race and politics this is a must read, it will challenge you, making you rethink what people are actually using public talk for.
University of Chicago Press; 2007; Pb £15.50
Reviewed by Faizia Pask

Fear of crime – Rational or irrational?
Inventing Fear of Crime: Criminology and the Politics of Anxiety
Murray Lee
The fear of crime is a significant social issue that concerns researchers, policy makers and the general public alike, and has given rise to much intellectual debate.
Murray Lee’s work offers a fresh new perspective on this important aspect of criminology, exploring it with enthusiasm and at times interesting but controversial insights.
This book extends its commentary on the fear of crime far beyond the point first reached by the discipline of criminology. Part 1 takes a historical look at the emergence of ‘fear of crime’, and Part 2 looks at the political rationality for it as a government tactic. Murray postulates that ‘fear’ was not discovered, rather it was created by political and governmental assemblages. With increasing numbers of people fearing crime, Murray contends that an industry has emerged which extends to security companies and insurers who have made the concept a cultural theme in society today. Murray explores the media’s role in the propensity of crime fear, touching on the notion that media reportage increases offending through imitation. Albeit a presentation of controversial theories, Murray attempts to ground theory in research, yet the tone of the book is conversational, which does not require specialised knowledge of the subject area, thus making it an excellent text for anyone with a cursory interest in the area or for undergraduate students.
Whilst Murray Lee acknowledges that fear of crime is a very pervasive reality for the most vulnerable in society, this book helps to dispel the myth that most serious crime is committed by the shadowy stranger.
If one wants to take part in the ongoing debate as to whether the fear of crime is a rational or irrational fear, then this is the book for you!
Willan; 2007;
Reviewed by Maria Ward

Brimming with advice
Counselling People on the Autism Spectrum: A Practical Manual
Katherine Paxton & Irene A. Estay
Using a cognitive behavioural framework to working with people on the autistic spectrum this book provides a refreshing alternative to the multitude of behavioural therapy literature.
The manual is helpfully divided into two sections: with the first part providing an overview of the autism spectrum and the second offering useful adaptations and strategies to apply to clinical practice when working with people who have an autism spectrum disorder. The modifications suggested appear to use the relative strengths of people on the autism spectrum, and the authors suggest they can help most ASD clients even if they were to appear not to need such modifications.
Throughout the book, the text is complemented with useful case examples and references to the writer’s clinical practice.  They provide diagrams and examples of modified visual tools, which the writers suggest facilitate interventions when working with someone with ASD.
Overall I feel this is an accessible and useful resource that is brimming with practical advice.  
Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2007; Pb £15.99
Reviewed by Joanne Delicata

A definitive source
The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology
Robin I.M. Dunbar & Louise Barrett (Eds.)
The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology is a splendid read. It provides a comprehensive overview of this field along with an evolutionary psychological treatment of a myriad of topics in psychology, spanning work involving multiple species.
The majority of chapters are succinct, well written, and efficiently presented in an easily digested, punchy style. Few chapters were awkward or long-winded. Critically, much of the book is easily readable from an undergraduate level and beyond while still providing enough detail and scope for veteran investigators in that chapter’s particular field; and the two-columns-per-page format facilitates the read. Furthermore, each section’s introduction offers an informative and usable overview of the chapters contained within.
Most of the authors extensively reference their writing; and these references provide a strong foundation for the reader desiring further investigation into the primary literature. However, some of the chapters seem self-glorifying in the level of self-referencing. One chapter’s reference list has 11 per cent of references that included the author, whose work does not represent 11 per cent in that particular field of study. Herein reflects potential bias in authored chapter books.
Evaluating the reputation of each chapter’s author generates a second criticism. The book presents work scribed by researchers whose experience in their field varies from years to decades; this variance is often reflected through differing qualities of syntax and diction. However, this minor weakness along with a hint of the occasional self-serving reference list is easily outweighed by the overall strength of the book as a definitive source of evolutionary psychology. The savvy reader, through critical appraisal of each chapter and carefully scrutinising the source, can easily counter any shortcomings.
The inclusive readability of the chapters combined with the invaluable resource that is the reference list makes this book a necessity for those in the field of evolutionary psychology or researchers seeking to illustrate a complete picture of their work. Overall, the book is essential reference for psychologists.
Oxford University Press; 2007; Hb £49.95
Reviewed by Andrew J. Wawrzyniak

Psychiatric evidence base in brief

What You Can Change and What You Can’t: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-improvement.
Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman is a hugely experienced clinical psychologist, and in this book he offers many valuable nuggets of clinical wisdom and guidance on what people can change and what they can’t – the opening offering of the serenity prayer being a fine message for all involved in therapy.
Most chapters include key references in the area, and Seligman particularly excels on sexual dysfunction and dieting. The writing benefits from being clear and concise with easily accessible information on treatment options for the most common psychiatric disorders. This is, however, its weakness too: being overly simplistic and dealing with little in depth.
In essence it is therefore an introductory text and an overview, with its main aim being to inform those reading self-help literature. It does also lack significant recent developments in a number of disorders and interventions (e.g. psychosis, personality disorders, computerised CBT, mindfulness CBT, acceptance and commitment therapy) and overlaps with NICE guidance and other more detailed ‘what works for whom’-type texts.
Despite these criticisms the book delivers the scaffolding of the ‘evidence base’ and will be a useful book for training clinicians and those curious about the effectiveness of current treatments available.
Nicholas Brealey; 2007; Pb £9.99
Reviewed by Tom Boyd

Food for thought
The Nutrition Psychology of Childhood
Robert Drewett
This book is an extensive collection of research, assessing how and why nutrition may influence cognitive, behavioural and physical development, and whether interventions can be successful.  
Each chapter assesses a different link, for example how birth weight may influence cognitive development, progressing to how children develop independent eating preferences and how this may later contribute to the aetiology of eating disorders.
Reading this with a limited knowledge of this field, I found the subject matter was presented in a very accessible way and a pleasure to read. The author has made an important effort to critically appraise all the studies included. Another highlight was the range of studies selected from the vast source of literature out there, making any conclusions well founded. Selected studies included those conducted in Western and in developing countries, featuring field, natural and longitudinal designs, and based on both large clinical and population-based samples.
This book deserves a wide audience including practitioners, researchers, students and parents.
Cambridge University Press; 2007; Pb £17.99
Reviewed by Mary Keilty

A one-stop reference
The Mind: A User’s Guide
Raj Persaud (Ed.)
This gem of a book discusses many of the common and less common disorders of the mind.  A collaborative effort from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, each chapter is contributed by an expert(s) on the condition and begins with a brief case story.  The common format and layout of each chapter use headings such as ‘What is it?’, ‘What does it feel like?’, ‘What can be done to help?’, ‘Self-help’ and ‘Tips for families and friends’ to provide clear, succinct, practical information whilst dispelling commonly held misconceptions.  This is not a comprehensive reference, rather each chapter concludes with details of support organisations, websites and further reading allowing the reader to explore further.  
Of note is that attention is given to explanations of different therapies, and to addressing more general but highly important issues, such as the idiosyncratic relevance of diagnosis, stigma and discrimination, and how to stay well through prevention and managing mental health.  
Those looking for a broad view of current mental health diagnoses and treatment avenues as well as general issues about mental health should find this book a valuable introductory reference.  
Bantam Press; 2007; £14.99
Reviewed by Jasmin Aquan-Assee

Brain is the best
Best of the Brain from Scientific American: Mind, Matter, and Tomorrow’s Brain
Floyd E. Bloom (Ed.)
If you thought all of the important discoveries in psychology had been made, you’d be wrong. Best of the Brain provides a fascinating collection of recent articles presented in Scientific American. Advances in imaging techniques have allowed greater insight into the complexity of the human brain. Far from conclusive, this book provides the reader with evidence that is sure to leave them wanting to know more.
Three chapters take the reader on a whistle-stop tour of popular topics,, such as creativity

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber