Skip to main content

Personality – Daniel Nettle ***

High sexual appetite and compulsive promiscuity rule Erica’s life. Bill’s is governed by a drive to make money; he was worth several million pounds by the age of 40, he then blew it all but is now obsessed with rebuilding it. These two have one thing in common. They both have high scores for extraversion, one of five personality characteristics.
Daniel Nettle, an academic psychologist, guides us through a key theory of psychology, that all human personalities can be accurately mapped by assessing five simple measures. The five-factor model scores people for their levels of extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness. He then examines why such a range of personality should have been preserved through evolution, arguing that there are merits in all the traits. For example, having a low agreeableness score, which indicates a lack of empathy, might serve someone well in a society where a high-status goal-seeking approach is valued strongly. Conversely, women tend to score significantly higher for agreeableness, which hints at the advantages of having a social network when raising children.
When Nettle uses real people to illustrate each characteristic the book zips along and you’re hooked. The quirks of those high in extraversion are fascinating as are the misfortunes that befall those who have high neuroticism. Unfortunately, the chapter on openness (creativity) does not include any examples of real people interviewed by the author for his research. Instead it relies on an analysis of Allen Ginsburg’s poem Howl, a poor substitute. Lack of real anecdotes left this section difficult to engage with and it reads like a theoretical exercise. Maybe Nettle couldn’t find any good examples – do creative people just not like filling in research questionnaires?
Nettle is a good explainer of the issues he discusses and the analogies he uses make his subject easy to understand. There is a great quiz at the back to find out your own personality type. The evolutionary perspective he takes is interesting and affirming – there is no such thing as a “good” or a “bad” personality, all have some evolutionary advantages. But his detailed detour into the variation of beaks of finches on the Galapagos Islands and evolution seems a bit out of place in a book whose main audience will be those interested in understanding their own personality. If you want a book simply about personality then this probably isn’t the one for you.

Hardback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Maria Hodges

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

The Lost Planets - John Wenz **

Reading the first few lines of the introduction to this book caused a raised eyebrow. In 1600, it tells us, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake 'for his radical views - that not only was the Sun just one of many stars, but those stars likely had planets around them as well.' Unfortunately, this bends the truth. Bruno was burned at the stake for holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith - for conventional heretical beliefs amongst which his ideas on cosmology were trivial. This was an unfortunate start.

What John Wenz gives us is a people-driven story of the apparent early discovery of a number of planets orbiting other stars, made by Peter van de Kamp and his colleagues at Swarthmore College in America, most notably connected to a relatively obscure star called Barnard's star. Wenz is at his best dealing with personal conflict. The book really comes alive in a middle section where van de Kamp's discoveries are starting to be challenged. This chapter works wel…

Bone Silence (SF) - Alastair Reynolds *****

Of all the best modern SF writers, Alastair Reynolds is arguably the supreme successor to the writers of the golden age. He gives us wide-ranging vision, clever concepts and rollicking adventure - never more so than with his concluding book of the Ness sisters trilogy.

Neatly, after the first title, Revenger was written from the viewpoint of one sister, Arafura and the second, Shadow Captain, had the other sister Adrana as narrator, this book is in the third person. It neatly ties up many of the loose ends from the previous books, but also leaves vast scope for revelations to cover in the future if Reynolds decides to revisit this world (he comments in his acknowledgements 'I am, for the time being, done with the Ness sisters. Whether they are done with me remains to be seen.')

As with the previous books, the feel here is in some ways reminiscent of the excellent TV series Firefly, but with pirates rather than cowboys transported into a space setting. Set millions of years in…