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Neurologist Restak's nominee for the neurotic personality of our time is the manipulator: the individual whose poor self-image, or divided self, confounds personal and interpersonal life. At one extreme are narcissists, so fearful of being swallowed by others that they dare not give of themselves in a loving relationship; instead, they deliberately reject what most attracts them, choosing partners they know they will not ""get involved with."" The spectrum moves toward ""borderline"" personalities who need constant assurance that they exist--and so seek frequent sexual contact, engage in sado-masochistic or often destructive behavior. Then there are impostors, con men, murderers, and psychopaths--culminating in mass mutual annihilation, as in Guyana. Restak's The Brain (1979) was a knowledgeable if somewhat biased account of current neuroscience research. Here, his biases serve him well. He writes about patients he has known, psychiatrists (like Laing) whom he has interviewed; he uses fine literary allusions (Durrell's Justine, Mann's Felix Krull), and he sketches in psychiatric history adroitly. (Especially interesting is an aside on the basis of the notion that a person could be insane but still possessed of reason: i.e., a psychopath.) The cast is beautifully described, and some of the impostors and con men, in particular, are unforgettable. But Restak's outlook is depressing. He speculates that the media--notably television, with its on-the-spot interviews with murderers, its display of violence, and its accent on image--have contributed to the increase in manipulative personalities. Perhaps. Yet he also credits Buber, Freud, and Erikson with long ago describing the problems of relationships and the crises of identity. And he presents no evidence that behavior can change, that therapy can help. As a catalog of case histories, the book is nonetheless absorbing.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday