Book reviews

illusions with Richard Gregory; women leaders; phobias; and more

Seeing Through Illusions                                                                        Richard L. Gregory                                                                             Oxford University Press; 2009; Hb £16.99

Richard Gregory delights in word-play and puns, and the title of his book is deliberately ambiguous. ‘Seeing through illusions’ could announce a study of vision, using illusions as demonstrations, or it could promise a volume that will get to the bottom of what causes them. Gregory attempts to do both of these things in this highly readable survey of the field of vision to which he has contributed so much.

In this extended essay, he reflects on some of the history of vision science, and the evolution of eye and brain, before tackling the daunting task of describing and cataloguing visual illusions in the major part of the text. ‘Illusion’ is defined rather broadly to cover any mismatch between the subjective visual world and the objective world, that which is ‘really’ there. Gregory avoids tricky philosophical issues in his treatise and implicitly adopts a realist stance, though a million miles away from the naive realism of J.J. Gibson. For Gregory, illusions demonstrate the physiological and psychological processes that mediate our perception of the world, but without in any way implying that the world itself is illusory.

Gregory offers an organisational framework for illusions, in which he suggests that there are seven basic kinds of illusion, and shows how examples of each kind can be explained in terms of problems arising from reception, perception or conception. For example, his first category of illusion is ‘blindness’ which can (fairly obviously) be caused by damage or temporary problems in the sensory system itself, but into which type he also places some kinds of agnosia, and change blindness, which arise from faulty ‘top-down’ processing. The punster labels his organisational framework ‘The Peeriodic Table’, but I forgave him for that.

I enjoyed reading the book – it is written in an accessible style with details relegated to notes at the end of each chapter so as not to interrupt the flow. As a perceptual psychologist myself, I found Richard Gregory’s overview of what has been so much of his life’s work rather a treat to read. I could hear his voice speaking the words of the text and enjoy his imagined giggles. There are scattered autobiographical anecdotes throughout the book – for example in a footnote we learn that Hick’s law was based on reaction time data from Gregory himself. There are a few scholarly rough edges that could have done with a harsh editing. Nevertheless, I would recommend it as supplementary reading to fairly advanced students to broaden their understanding and appreciation of their subject matter.

Gregory’s engaging style and delight in his subject matter could really make this a book of wide appeal for the general reader. With them in mind, though, it’s a shame it wasn’t produced in a more glossy format. The illustrations were a bit of a disappointment. Most were black-and-white and, particularly the occasional monochrome reproductions of artwork, make the book look ‘duller’ than its subject matter. Some figures needed more elaboration in the legend or text than we got. There are only four pages of colour plates inserted centrally, and while these were good, not all were explicitly referred to from the text. Some topics really needed diagrams – for example, the mirror discussion, which I found really difficult to get my head round (ironically enough, since getting your head round seems to be at the core of the explanation).

These are quibbles, though. It has been an enormous pleasure to have had to read Richard Gregory’s treatise from cover to cover for this review.

Reviewed by Vicki Bruce
who is Professor of Psychology at Newcastle University

Developing Women Leaders: A Guide for Men and Women in Organizations
Anna Marie Valerio
Wiley-Blackwell; 2009; Pb £16.99

For years leadership researchers and practitioners have debated why it is that women are still under-represented in senior positions. This text avoids revisiting many of those arguments and instead focuses on offering practical advice for managers, both male and female, on how to increase the opportunities for women in the workplace.

With women now making up 48 per cent of the workforce (full- and part-time) and equal pay claims making headline news, this issue is still prevalent today. Valerio presents a refreshingly balanced approach. She discusses the differences and the similarities between male and female leaders and considers the need for all managers to display a combination of both masculine and feminine traits. The text takes a realistic view of what organisations and managers can do to support women and considers the realities of dual career couples and the impact this has on careers.

The key success of this text is, for me, Valerio’s presentation of years of leadership research in a ‘friendly, vernacular voice’ suitable for a wide-ranging audience. 

Reviewed by Catherine Steele
who is an occupational psychologist, University of Worcester

Asperger Syndrome: A Practical Guide for Teachers   
Val Cumine, Julia Dunlop & Gill Stevenson (Eds.)            Routledge; 2010; Pb £19.99

Having referred my students to the first edition of this book on many occasions, I was interested to see what revisions have been made to this second edition. This fully revised version provides a more up-to-date perspective on the latest developments in the field. While including Every Child Matters, the Disability Equality Duty and Access Inclusion Panning, it is pleasing to see that the authors have still maintained their practical approach, providing the reader with a range of educational and behavioural strategies.

This is a useful and very practical book, which will be informative to staff working in any school, special or mainstream, involved in the education of children with Asperger’s syndrome or wider autism spectrum disorders. While clearly targeted at teachers and assistants supporting children within educational settings, the book is also a welcome resource for parents, carers and other professionals supporting the social and behavioural progress of students with Asperger’s syndrome.

Reviewed by Ruth Hewston
who is a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies at the University of Worcester

Phobias: or The Way of the Worrier
Tim Weinberg
                                                                                   Marshall Cavendish; 2009; Pb £8.99

In just 180 pages, Weinberg examines phobia at 360 degrees – from the common fear of spiders to the unusual fear of poetry, from acarophobia to zeusophobia, to yet unnamed irrational fears. The author also draws from his own experience with his fear of heights.

Each chapter has two sections. The first is an episode of the author's attempts and struggles to overcome his phobia, the second tackles one category of phobias, such as situations or animals, and breaks it down, taking a look at individual fears, with an A–Z table of names and definitions.

Two characteristics of this publication are worth mentioning. The first is Weinberg’s holistic approach to the topic. He does not simply review the latest literature but examines phobias from different perspectives: their perception in history, films portraying them, scientific research, anecdotes. The second striking feature is humour. Using an informal, first-person account, Weinberg informs and engages the reader combining authoritative sources and web links with a healthy dose of phobia-related jokes and cartoons. An amusing read around a topic otherwise uncomfortable for many of us.

Reviewed by Tania Heap
who is an Associate Lecturer
at the Open University

The Joy of Work? Jobs, Happiness, and You
Peter Warr & Guy Clapperton Routledge; 2009; Pb £8.99

Peter Warr and Guy Clapperton have produced a book to give advice on how to improve your job, change jobs and/or alter the way you view your job in order to increase feelings of happiness. The authors address the features of jobs that have been shown to contribute to happiness (based on Peter Warr’s 1987 Vitamin model, with the addition of three more elements). They also consider the impact of personality and how we interpret and process information, quite rightly pointing out that these will also impact on whether we enjoy our jobs.

Towards the end of the book, there is guidance on how to use all this information, along with some more advice on ways to increase happiness (e.g. from CBT and positive psychology research). Throughout the book there are also a number of questionnaires (also available on the web) designed to help assess feelings about the various aspects of jobs, and to help focus on areas to address.

Warr and Clapperton successfully weave together the many and varied theories and approaches in this area to produce a guide which should be helpful for occupational psychologists, HR professionals and managers within organisations. I would suggest however that although written in a chatty style, it may lose less dedicated readers, especially those looking for a ‘self-help’ guide – the downside of a thorough and rigorous summary of research and theory is that it can be repetitive and that some of the real nuggets get lost in the sheer quantity of information.

Reviewed by Emily Hutchinson who is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant and Senior Lecturer

Web only reviews

The Case for Make Believe
Susan Linn

The New Press; 2008; Pb £11.99

Susan Linn passionately lays out her claim for make-believe being superior to generic toys or soulless television and gaming. The language and examples are somewhat Americanised, but the words resound of someone who knows from personal experience the outlet that play can offer children. The first part of the book sets out a strong assault on all that is commercial. Linn is willing to acknowledge that television can offer a starting point for play to arise from, but the overwhelming argument is that a pretend television made from a cardboard box would be preferable!


In my case, this book was to some extent preaching to the converted, but the style and the impressive use of research would make it a worthwhile read even for those that are already well read in this area. Linn also includes some case studies that powerfully illustrate the role of play therapy as a medium for working with children. 


With reflections from ‘Audrey’ her puppet, the case for make-believe offers an accessible addition to the current literature around play and a strong argument for the play-based curriculum.


Reviewed by Hannah Nelson who is an assistant psychologist with Greater Manchester West, Intermediate Care


Your Career in Psychology: Putting Your Graduate Degree to Work
Stephen F. Davis, Peter J. Giordano & Carolyn A. Licht

Wiley-Blackwell; 2009; PB £17.99

Your Career in Psychology is a user-friendly guide for practical and often amusing advice for a wide range of psychological careers. It is both useful and enticing that writers draw on their own experiences to guide budding new psychologists. However, for me, too much time is spent stating the obvious in the first few chapters, which becomes boring. Focus is given to American education and qualifications, which at times is rather unhelpful. It’s not all bad. Supervision and support are an important part of any psychologist’s role, how to utilise this fully is explored well. If nothing else it is an excellent motivational tool and a way to feel proud of your accomplishments.


Reviewed by Jenna Spink, who is an assistant psychologist


Metacognition in Young Children
Shirley Larkin

Routledge; 2009; Pb £24.99

Shirley Larkin guides the reader on a thought-provoking journey into the world of metacognition in young children. The clear and insightful text considers metacognition in its broadest sense, through an exploration of its development, progression, associated theories, impact on child development, and influence in learning processes and achievement.


Generally researched within the academic forum with relation to cognitive processes at different developmental stages, the author suggests that theories of metacognition have significant and broader application in contribution to ‘life-long learning’.


Through illustrations of her own studies, consideration of other research, and dialogue between teachers and children, Larkin successfully addresses and breaks down the more complex issues of metacognition to help clarify understanding. Helpful references and practical suggestions are provided to encourage the reader to explore different aspects.


Aimed perhaps at a readership primarily comprising academic professionals, educational psychologists, research students and those within the teaching profession, the book is written in an engagingly informative and accessible way and I feel that it would be an equally inspiring, absorbing and informative read for the non-specialist and indeed anyone involved with children.


Reviewed by Hannah Butler, who is an assistant clinical psychologist for Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Clinical Psychology Service for Children, Young People and Their Families


Clinical Psychology in Practice
Helen Beinart, Paul Kennedy & Susan Llewelyn (Eds.)

BPS Blackwell; 2009; Pb £29.99

The book gets started with an introduction to clinical psychology as a whole continuing to specific areas such as children, those with personality disorder and the chronically ill. For each domain the text provides insight into the area in terms of assessment, formulation, treatment, service development, research and audit as well as references for further reading. What follows is a discussion around clinical practice including an in-depth and evidence based chapter about supervision.


Written by a variety of clinical and academic writers, it captures the essence of clinical psychology. The book provides a good overview of issues facing clinical psychologists in practice and how these are applied in differing settings across the lifespan. 


This book is a must for assistant psychologists and trainees alike yet would be interesting to both qualified psychologists and undergraduates. Overall an information-packed, thought-provoking read.


Reviewed by Samantha L. Heaton


The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Family Psychology
James H. Bray & Mark Stanton (Eds.)

Wiley-Blackwell; 2009; Hb £110.00

The authors define family psychology as a paradigm that includes interpersonal, individual and systemic factors. They argue that it is a way of blending systemic approaches with other theories used by psychologists such as theories of attachment, personality or cognitive models. It comes across as quite a commonsense approach that embraces eclecticism, which may explain why there are 54 chapters covering nearly every clinical area psychologists work in.


It is noted in one chapter that family psychology is not a recognised academic discipline in the UK in the same way that it is in the USA. Hence this handbook is largely an American affair with all but one of the contributing authors hailing from the USA. A number of the chapters within the book may not be applicable to the UK context, and I found some of the language and examples unfamiliar. Nevertheless the handbook is well written and edited and covers a large amount of interesting and useful information in a concise and accessible manner.


The writing integrates a range of systemic literature and other literature. Each chapter offers ways of applying a family psychology approach to clinical problems, and there are many references to research and suggestions for clinical practice. One criticism might be that in seeking to represent the wide application of family psychology some of the chapters are a little brief.


Overall the book serves as a good introduction to and overview of how family psychology situates itself. Those interested in the application of systemic ideas within psychology will probably want to return to this book from time to time, but its breadth of content also means that it might not suit everyone. Have a browse before buying.

 Reviewed by Matthew Lister, who is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist


Meaningful Coincidence
Jan Cederquist

Marshall Cavendish; 2009; Pb £9.99

Do coincidences have a hidden meaning? Do they provide helpful solutions to those who notice and actively search for them? Is there an ongoing, meaningful reciprocity between mind and matter as well as between the active, pulsating universe and its inhabitants?


Written in a colloquial, engaging style Jan Cederquist addresses such questions by drawing on Carl Jung’s theories of synchronicity and the collective unconscious, together with quantum physics and the wider aspects of religion/spirituality. The author presents relevant elements of theories/concepts in a deliciously inviting and simplified manner, interlaced with many real-life accounts of meaningful coincidences (synchronicity) from his own experiences.


This stimulating read is for open-minded individuals who relish exploring alternative, holistic ways of understanding and interpreting life experiences in conjunction with the search for ways to meaningfully and positively flourish in daily life as well as on a spiritual level.


The author suggests further readings to encourage continued exploration of the intriguing concepts fleetingly but delightfully touched upon in his book. Enthusiastically recommended!


Reviewed by Karen Bailey, who is a Chartered Educational Psychologist, West Berkshire Educational Psychology Service


Self-Harm in Young People: A Therapeutic Assessment Manual
Dennis Ougrin, Tobias Zundel & Audrey V. Ng

Hodder Arnold; 2009; Pb £29.99

Although not personally involved in the therapeutic assessment of self-harm in young people, I found this book absolutely fascinating to read in short bursts, not only for the levels of insight that it allowed, but also for the common myths that it laid aside.


The book is described as a manual, and as such is not the kind of book that you would sit and read from cover to cover. It is incredibly detailed, and as a relative lay person, there were chapters that were beyond my understanding. However, it is a practical resource aimed at the clinical practitioner and mental health professional, so this is to be expected. The frequent use of case examples was helpful and engaging, and I found myself drawn to particular chapters with titles such as: ‘Defining self-harm’, ‘The genetics of suicidal behaviour’ and ‘Using systemic and narrative approaches to create exits’. Further, the sheer extent of referenced material was useful and engaging in itself.

This book is highly comprehensive, brimming with research-based evidence – a valuable contribution to applied approaches in this area.


 Reviewed by Ian Smillie, who is a trainee educational psychologist at Cardiff University













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