EXUBERANCE by Kay Redfield Jamison


The Passion for Life
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An exploration of the psychological state of exuberance: its origins, its contagious nature, the effect of an exuberant temperament on the life and work of those who possess it, and its impact on society.

Jamison (Psychiatry/Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine), author of An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (1995), which recounted her own bout with manic-depressive illness, defines exuberance as a “temperament of joyfulness, ebullience, and high spirits, a state of overflowing energy and delight.” She reports that in very young animals, exuberant play appears to be important in forming social bonds vital to the survival of the herd or group, and in human children it’s closely linked to creativity. To get at its essence, she turns to writers of children’s stories—A.A. Milne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Graham, et al.—who have portrayed the ebullience of youth in their characters. She explores its contagious nature, pointing to positive effects of the exuberant temperaments of both Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in WWII. And while it’s possible for this elated mood to intensify into mania in susceptible individuals, the author notes that it drives others to high levels of achievement. To understand the role that exuberance plays in enabling scientists to think creatively, work tirelessly, and overcome setbacks, Jamison interviews molecular biologists James Watson, Carleton Gajdusek, and Robert Gallo and astrophysicists Robert Farquhar and Andrew Cheng and looks at the impact exuberant teachers such as Humphrey Davy and Richard Feynman had on their students. Exuberance, Jamison concludes, is essential to social change and even to survival. In war, it can overcome fear; in work, it can prevail against fatigue, pain, and other hazards. Unchecked, though, it can lead to irrational or unethical behavior. As examples, she cites Generals George Patton and Billy Mitchell as men whose unbridled enthusiasms—read anger here—led them to go too far.

A well-written, lively account, featuring a host of exuberant personalities.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-40144-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2004


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