Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Essential William James
Edited by John R. Shook
Prometheus Books

Long eclipsed by the giants of psychoanalysis, Freud and Jung (James met them: liked Jung, hated Freud) and seemingly made irrelevant by drug-happy behaviorists that dominate psychology now, William James is currently receiving new interest and respect.  His trust in self-examination and what's sneeringly referred to as anecdotal evidence together with laboratory evidence is increasingly getting a second hearing.  His emphasis on practical effects and action that brought Aristotle up to date, yet his insistence on complexity and room for mystery, keep him current in many fields of science and speculation.  As an early link between philosophy and psychology, he continues to show the way.

This selection of 18 essays by William James is preceded by the editor's 41 academically-oriented pages on his thought.  Any selection of James is welcome, especially published-- as this one is-- in a sturdy paperback with clear type.  But there are other such selections--for instance The Heart of William James, edited by the excellent James biographer Robert D. Richardson.  A few of the essays are the same in both collections, but many are different.  Though the editor of this volume implies reasons for some of his selections, a clearer explanation for why these constitute the "essential" William James would be helpful.  Annotations and footnotes could also clarify the many casual references James' makes to events etc. that his audience would have known, but which are now forgotten.

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