A disdainful biography of popular psychiatrist Morgan Scott Peck (1936-2005) by journalist Jones (The National Catholic Reporter at Fifty, 2014, etc.).
Peck, the author of 15 books, is best known for his debut, the groundbreaking 1978 bestseller The Road Less Traveled: a New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. The work catapulted Peck from being a private-practice psychiatrist to a celebrity who commanded exorbitant fees on speaking tours. Jones traces Peck’s childhood and young adulthood before skipping to his years as a writer and speaker, finally focusing on his last years. He writes that Peck’s wealthy “WASP” upbringing in midcentury New York City informed his entire life. Peck’s troubled relationships with his domineering father and bullying older brother, in Jones’ opinion, dictated Peck’s future neuroses: “Peck was a control freak with an addictive personality, a narcissist with a gift,” he writes. (Other people he quotes in this book similarly characterize Peck as self-centered.) Educated at top-tier pillars of education, including Phillips Exeter Academy, Middlebury College, and Harvard University, Peck broke free from the East Coast by attending medical school in Cleveland, Ohio. By then, he’d married Lily Ho, a Chinese woman, to his parents’ disapproval; her parents equally opposed the marriage. He joined the Army, and, after several years of living as a military family, the couple and their three children settled in Connecticut—mere miles from Peck’s childhood summer home. Overall, Jones’ account of Peck’s life, a revised version of his 2007 book The Road He Travelled, provides readers with an engaging look into 20th-century U.S. history, from Peck’s father’s association with John Foster Dulles at law firm Sullivan & Cromwell to Peck’s own service during the Vietnam War. However, there’s some unevenness in Jones’ telling of the events of Peck’s life, as it focuses heavily on Peck’s childhood and dysfunctional family relationships, then glosses over decades to spend an inordinate amount of time recounting Peck’s last year and the feud between Peck’s second wife, Kathy, and his executive secretary, Gail Puterbaugh. Jones’ prose style also tends to time-hop; for example, it makes reference to Peck’s divorce from his wife Lily before he’s even married to her and then gives the divorce itself quick treatment when it occurs chronologically. As a result, readers may hunger to discover what Jones left out.
An often fascinating, if uneven, glimpse into the world of a bestselling author.