Authors: Carole Wade, PhD; and Carol Tavris, PhD
: Pearson – 501 pages
Book Review by
: Sonu Chandiram

This book is unusual in the sense that the authors present psychology as a “fun” science that tells us a lot about ourselves and others’ behavior. Unlike chemistry and physics for example, they show in concrete ways that psychology is very much a part of our daily lives, with the exception of those who are chemists and physicists, of course. And these professionals too will find the study of psychology empowering in their lives, if they chose to.

In the main, if you are curious to really dig deeper than the surface to find out why you or others behave the way we do, you will find this book very enlightening. But it is important for you to keep an open mind in finding out objective reasons for certain types of behavior, and not just depend on your assumptions. The reasons for any particular behavior must be proven through the scientific method, Drs. Wade and Tavris point out.

This book is also uniquely different from others on psychology because the authors emphasize the importance of critical thinking. As a matter of fact, in an unusually long Preface, they present a section entitled Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking in which they write that we must apply a three-pronged approach to such thinking: We define it, we model it, and we practice it.        

The authors also underscore the need for “liveliness and relevance” in teaching psychology. They write: “Authors of texts at all levels have a unique opportunity to combine rigor and authority with warmth and compassion in conveying what psychologists know (and will seek to know) about the predicaments and puzzles of life.”

They offer some of the predicaments and puzzles that psychologists seek to understand (and present others in a feature in their chapters entitled Psychology in the News):

  • a 70-year-old Indian woman giving birth
  • a man who had been in a vegetative state for years but seemed to reveal signs of brain activity
  • a rape victim whose mistaken eyewitness testimony sent an innocent man to prison for years
  • a little boy expelled on zero-tolerance grounds for bringing a Cub Scout camping utensil to school
  • Celebrities who claim their extramarital adventures were a result of their sex addiction
  • the man who crashed his plane into an IRS building in Austin, killing himself and two employees, out of rage and frustration

Carole Wade and Carol Tavris use such stories in the book, and after presenting concepts and findings, revisit the stories so the reader can relate them to real-life events. This method helps readers develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and see clearly that psychology is indeed “attached to life at all four corners.”

Here is an overview of the contents of this book, as gleaned from the titles of its 14 chapters:

  • What Is Psychology?
  • Theories of Personality
  • Development over the Life Span
  • Neurons, Hormones, and the Brain
  • Body Rhythms and Mental States
  • Sensation and Perception
  • Thinking and Intelligence
  • Memory
  • Learning and Conditioning
  • Behavior in Social and Cultural Context
  • Psychological Disorders
  • Approaches to Treatment and Therapy
  • Emotion, Stress, and Health
  • The Major Motives of Life: Food, Love, Sex, and Work

This is truly a different book that presents psychology in a lively and relevant manner, thanks to the efforts of its authors named below.

Carole Wade earned her PhD in cognitive psychology at Stanford University. She began her academic career at the University of New Mexico, where she taught courses in psycholinguistics and developed the first course at the university on the psychology of gender. She was professor of psychology for ten years at San Diego Mesa College, and then taught at the College of Marin and Dominican University of California. In addition to this text, she and Carol Tavris have written Psychology; Psychology in Perspective; and The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective. Dr. Wade has a long-standing interest in making psychology accessible to students and the general public. In particular, she has focused her efforts on the teaching and promotion of critical-thinking skills, diversity issues, and the enhancement of undergraduate education in psychology.

Carol Tavris earned her PhD in the interdisciplinary program in social psychology at the University of Michigan, and as a writer and lecturer, she has sought to educate the public about the importance of critical and scientific thinking in psychology. In addition to the books mentioned above that she has coauthored with Carole Wade, she is also coauthor with Elliott Aronson, of Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts; and the author of  Mismeasure of Woman and Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion.  She has written on psychological topics for a wide variety of magazines, journals, edited books, and newspapers, some of which have been collected in Psychobabble and Biobunk: Using Psychological Science to Think Critically About Popular Psychology.