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by Robin Skynner & John Cleese

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1995
ISBN: 0-393-03742-8
Publisher: Norton

 You'd think Monty Python creator Cleese tackling health, happiness, and life after death would make for hilarious reading. Well, think again. Cleese and family therapist Skynner have followed their successful Families and How to Survive Them (not reviewed) with a dialogue on healthy mental living. The gist of their theory boils down to the need for the parent and child in each of us to be well integrated and flexible. In a rote repartee that consists of leading questions and summations, Cleese and Skynner apply their psychological analysis to individuals, families, corporations, nations, and societies. But even with ITT and Karl Marx on the proverbial couch, Cleese's occasional jokes fall flat. Bud Handelsman's cartoons, which depend too heavily on the text, provide the only comic edge--for while the give and take of discussion might be invaluable in therapy, it is tiresome to read. The book's rambling format is all the more distressing because some of Cleese and Skynner's points are solid. They touch on everything from child rearing to the recipe for happy marriage, as well as grief, work fulfillment, near-death experiences, the Holocaust, and the current mayhem in Somalia. They cite an equally wide a range of sources, from a 30-year study of Harvard students to Plato, Coleridge, and Dale Carnegie. Many of their conclusions--e.g., that sexual experience before marriage can demystify sex and prevent conjugal infidelity, or that strong, hands-off leadership makes for both good business and happy families--are pop-psych boilerplate. But Skynner's clinical experience gives such basic comments a bit more heft than they usually receive in popular magazines and on talk shows. If the ``Parent'' in the authors had been firmer with the ``Child'' and insisted on heavy editing and strong shaping, this work might have moved beyond self-help mediocrity.