B.F. SKINNER by Daniel W. Bjork


A Life
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 A fair-minded, insightful portrayal of the life and ideas of one of America's most controversial thinkers, by Bjork (History/St. Mary's University). Born to an undistinguished middle-class family in central Pennsylvania, Skinner survived an awkward youth. Initially keen to be a writer, he abandoned storytelling in order to pursue graduate work at Harvard, where he made his mark in a dissertation that boldly challenged prevailing trends in academic psychology. Deemed igid and fanatical but also recognized as brilliant, Skinner built a reputation as a behavioral scientist at universities in Minnesota and Indiana, where, in the postwar years, his interest in social invention first received national attention through his controlled- environment air-crib (better known as the ``baby box''). His desire to improve society through systematic behavioral control and positive reinforcement also manifested itself in two widely read books, Walden Two and Beyond Freedom and Dignity, the latter of which ignited a firestorm of protest, when published in 1971, for its assault on ideas dear to freedom-loving Americans. By then near the end of his career at Harvard, Skinner maintained a productive scholarly life in spite of increasing isolation, battling deafness and blindness before dying of leukemia in 1990. More engaging when discussing ideas than when probing Skinner's roots or private life, and hardly the definitive biography; but, even so, Bjork gives a clear view of an American original whom posterity could judge more kindly than did his contemporaries. (Photos)

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1993
ISBN: 0-465-00611-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993