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A Readable Reference

Lee Sechrest

Handbook of Personality Psychology. Robert Hogan, John Johnson and Stephen Briggs, eds. 987 pp. Academic Press, 1997. $150.

Designating this a "handbook" is at once accurate and possibly unfortunate. Handbooks are frequently rather dreary affairs, occasionally useful as sources and for citation but scarcely worth reading.

In fact, Handbook of Personality Psychology is highly interesting and readable, comprehensive and authoritative but with depth that takes it well beyond the encyclopedia format. The domain of personality is covered almost completely, and the material is quite up to date. This book is not a collection of previously published or only slightly reworked papers. It gives clear indication of the careful thought the editors gave to its planning and their firm control over its writing. To begin with, it is wholly refreshing, at least to this reviewer, to have a comprehensive work on personality that pays no particular attention to theories of personality. There are no chapters in this volume to review what Freud said or Adler or Rogers or Bandura or anyone else. Theorists such as Freud are mentioned when their views are relevant to topics under discussion, but, blessedly, no summaries of the major theories are included. Instead, the editors present a comprehensive and coherent view of the field of personality today. It is not that work on personality is not currently theoretical, but the theories are delimited rather than being of the grand, overarching variety.

The work is presented in eight sections that deal in essence with what personality is, how it is studied, how it develops, its biological and social determinants, how personality works, how it relates to phenomenal experience and what it is useful for. That is a lot of scope, but there are 36 chapters extending nearly a thousand pages. The editors chose specific authors for each of the chapters, they chose well and they were remarkably successful in getting the participation of authoritative scientists who generally write quite well.

The handbook lends itself well to its function as a resource volume, and anyone who wishes to look up a topic in contemporary personality to see what its current status might be will find the handbook user friendly. From that standpoint, its only obvious deficiency is the lack of a name index, which in these days of information processors should have been possible at modest cost.

Many years ago, I gave up teaching a theories-of-personality course because the dominant textbook was so thorough and well done that it left me with very little to do in the classroom. This handbook would, I think, be a splendid textbook, despite the thoroughness of its coverage, because it leaves the instructor with the challenging but engaging task of integrating the material, which would provide an opening for any instructor with a particular theoretical passion, but many other routes to integration are possible.

For more general use, this volume certainly belongs on the shelf of every psychologist who teaches personality, but also on the shelf of every other scholar interested in what is known about what makes people tick.—Lee Sechrest, Psychology, University of Arizona


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