Searls shows persuasively how the creation and reinvention of inkblots has reflected psychologists’ scientific and cultural...



A history of 20th-century psychology focused on the life, work, and legacy of the inventor of the inkblot test.

Translator, essayist, and fiction writer Searls (What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going, 2009, etc.) became fascinated by the “rich and strange” set of inkblots that, he discovered, are still used for psychological assessment. His investigation into the life of their creator, Swiss physician Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922), led to a trove of material collected by a biographer who died before he could write his book; along with other material, that archive informs Searls’ richly detailed, sensitive biography of Rorschach’s short life and long afterlife. A student of Eugen Bleuler and Carl Jung, Rorschach was trained at a time when “an orgy of testing” dominated psychology. The son of an artist, with artistic talent himself, Rorschach was alert to modernist art movements, which shaped his ideas about the power of visual images to reveal personality and the power of culture to shape perception. He worked assiduously to craft precisely the symmetrical, mysterious, suggestive images that comprise his test, and he devised “a single psychological system” of evaluation that considered the viewer’s response to Movement, Color, and Form. Although he admitted that “it is always daring to draw conclusions about the way a person experiences life from the results of an experiment,” when he compared his evaluations of patients against other doctors’ diagnoses, he was encouraged about his accuracy. As Searls admits, Rorschach never convincingly explained how and why the inkblots worked. Unfortunately, his system, and the permutations that followed as generations of psychologists attempted to standardize it, proves difficult to follow in the author’s otherwise engrossing narrative. Searls is stronger when characterizing the “feuds and backbiting” that the test inspired among practitioners in America, where it “was a lightning rod from the start,” and Europe, where, for example, it was applied to assess Nazis on trial at Nuremberg.

Searls shows persuasively how the creation and reinvention of inkblots has reflected psychologists’ scientific and cultural perspectives.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3654-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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