The Heart of William James

Edited by Robert Richardson, Harvard Univ., $29.95 (364p) ISBN 978-0-674-05561-2
William James, brother of novelist Henry James, has long been recognized as one of the fathers of modern psychology and of philosophical pragmatism. In this new selection of essays from James's voluminous writings, Richardson, James's biographer and a professor at Wesleyan University, attempts to add to this list of achievements, with slight success, by casting James as an early self-help guru. Seventeen essays—ranging from the early but formative ones on the physiology of emotions, the relationship between perception and belief, right through to James's mature works on habit formation, will, and action—provide an admirably broad overview of the author's expansive output. Scattered too among classic essays are lesser known gems such as "The Ph.D. Octopus," a brief disquisition on higher education, and a fascinating 1910 essay on war that might raise some modern eyebrows for its exhortation to substitute war between men for "warfare against nature." However, the collection's weakest moments are the editor's introductions to the individual pieces that are littered with platitudes and questionable speculation. The overall force and authority of James's prose, however, with its blend of insight and urgency, is more than strong enough to make up for the missteps. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/19/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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