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Raymond Fancher, a psychologist at York University (Ontario) and a biographer of Freud, has done an artful job of selection in assembling the salient facts about the salient figures in psychology. For all its merits, however, the book reads like a course supplement, a bit didactic, with each chapter ending with why X is important and suggested readings. Alternatively, these characteristics might be considered virtues, for certainly a student reading the volume would have a very good picture of what psychology is all about and what events shaped its changing emphases. (For example, hostility to Germany in World War I meant hostility to Wundt and indirectly led to the rise of behaviorism in America.) The student will also sense, and later be told, that psychology has had no unifying theses but rather an assortment of dominant figures who defined their own pathways--Freudian analysis, Piagetan genetic epistemology, Pavlovian reflexology. Fancher is good at outlining the philosophical underpinnings of psychology, wisely beginning with Descartes and later discussing the influence of Kant on Helmholtz and the Gestalt school. Most of the chapters present both biographical details and critical contributions, and again, thanks to Fancher's delicate balance, the eccentricities of the man emerge as well as the quality of the work. James comes through as one of the more colorful figures, and Fancher includes the exchange between him and his Radcliffe student Gertrude Stein. ""Dear Professor James,"" Stein wrote, ""I am sorry but I do not really feel like an examination paper in philosophy today""--to which James replied, ""Dear Miss Stein, I understand perfectly how you feel. I often feel like that myself."" One cannot fault the cast Fancher has chosen, but wishes, somehow that the last chapter dealt not with Piaget and Skinner as the ""New Pioneers"" but perhaps with someone a little newer. Or is he trying to tell us we have yet to find anyone of comparable stature?

Pub Date: April 26th, 1979
Publisher: Norton