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:  
Review by Maria Hodges

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Tale of Seven Scientists - Eric Scerri ***

Scientists sometimes tell us we're in a post-philosophy world. For example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design bluntly say that that philosophy is 'dead' - no longer required, as science can do its job far better. However, other scientists recognise the benefits of philosophy, particularly when it is applied to their own discipline. One such is Eric Scerri, probably the world's greatest expert on the periodic table, who in this challenging book sets out to modify the philosophical models of scientific progress.

I ought to say straight away that A Tale of Seven Scientists sits somewhere on the cusp between popular science and a heavy duty academic title. For reasons that will become clear, I could only give it three stars if rating it as popular science, but it deserves more if we don't worry too much about it being widely accessible.

One minor problem with accessibility is that I've never read a book that took so long to get started. First t…

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the boo…

Einstein's Greatest Mistake - David Bodanis ****

Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to be a good book.
I would compare Einstein's Greatest Mistake with the movie Lincoln -  it is, in effect, a biopic in book form with all the glory and flaws that can bring. Compared with a good biography, a biopic will distort the truth and emphasise parts of the story that aren't significant because they make for a good screen scene. But I would much rather someone watched the movie than never found out anything about Lincoln - and similarly I'd much rather someon…