Handbook of Psychobiography (Oxford University Press, 2005)

A scholarly resource for those interested in the field.  Includes sections on method and theory, and also several chapters exemplifying solid psychobiographical practice, on subjects from Elvis to Bin Laden.  Get it here.

Book description:  “This exceptionally readable and down-to-earth handbook is destined to become the definitive guide to psychobiographical research, the application of psychological theory and research to individual lives of historical importance. It brings together for the first time the world’s leading psychobiographers, writing lucidly on many of the major figures of our age – from Osama Bin Laden to Elvis Presley. The First section of the book addresses the subject of how to construct an effective psychobiography. Editor William Todd Schultz introduces the field, provides valuable definitions of good and bad psychobiography, discusses an optimal structure for biographical data. Dan McAdams explores the question of what psychobiographers might learn from current research in personality psychology. Alan Elms delivers wise advice on the tricky subject of theory choice in psychobiography. William Runyan asks why Van Gogh cut off his ear, and in the process explains how one evaluates competing interpretations of the same event in a subject’s life. And Kate Isaacson describes a template for use in multiple-case psychobiography. Never before has method in psychobiography been so clearly and explicitly addressed. Those just getting started in the field will find in Section One a detailed roadmap for success. The remaining sections of the book are composed of richly engaging case studies of famous artists, psychologists, and politicians. They address compelling questions such as: What are the subjective origins of photographer Diane Arbus’s obsession with freaks? In what ways did the early loss of Sylvia Plath’s father affect her poetry and presage her suicide? Out of what painful life experience did James Barrie drive himself to invent Peter Pan? Why did Elvis experience such difficulty singing the song “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” What accounts for Bin Laden’s radicalism, Kim Jong Il’s paranoia, George W. Bush’s conflict with identity? Why did Freud go so disastrously astray in his analysis of Leonardo? What made psychologist Gordon Allport’s meeting with Freud so pungently significant? How did the loss of his father determine major elements of Nietzsche’s philosophy? These questions and many more get answered, often in surprising and incisive fashion. Additional chapters take up the lives of Harvard operationist S.S. Stevens, Erik Erikson, Edith Wharton, Saddam Hussein, Truman Capote, Kathryn Harrison, Jack Kerouac, and others. Within each case study, tips are proffered along the ways as to how psychobiographer, narrative psychologist, personologist, or personality researcher.”


“William Todd Schultz’s Handbook of Psychobiography is a very welcome contribution in many ways. Above all, it keeps alive the ‘revolution’ in understanding individual human lives that Gordon Allport, Henry Murray, and Erik Erikson launched, and it carries that ‘revolution’ into the post-September 11 era. One could hardly ask for more.” –Lawrence J. Friedman, Visiting Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

“An invaluable professional collection, bridging both art and science, that should do much to legitimize this whole tradition of thought that is so critical to the future of our intellectual life.” –Paul Roazen, Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Science, York University in Toronto and author of On the Freud Watch: Public Memoirs

“A welcome addition to an increasing number of contributions validating the claim that narrative should be taken as the root metaphor for psychology. The various chapters reveal lives as lived, a refreshing alternative to traditional personality studies that can only satisfy the researcher’s appetite for large numbers of subjects, in the process sacrificing any claim to depth of understanding.” –Theodore R. Sarbin, Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Criminology, University of California-Santa Cruz

“Drawing on leading contributors to psychobiography, Professor Schultz has created a handbook that defines and advances the state of the art and applied science. It tells the reader how to do it, and maybe more importantly, how not to do it, and it illustrates psychobiography at its best, illuminating the lives of notable artists, psychologists, and political figures. It is a solid contribution to the idiographic and holistic study of personality. It would make an excellent text for advanced undergraduates or graduates. And, unusual for a handbook, it is just a very good read.” –M. Brewster, Professor Emeritus, University of California-Santa Cruz

“Disciplined psychobiographical studies are finding a place within the scientifically respectable main currents of personality psychology. This book, which brings together methodological and substantive contributions by the major scholars who do psychobiography studies, should set the standard for the field. Fortified with the advice and examples from this Handbook, personality psychologists and others interested in deeper interpretations of significant contemporary and historical gures will be encouraged and emboldened.” –David Winter, Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan

“A definitive, rewarding, clearly written collection, essential for students and professional alike interested in personality and biography or the application of psychological theory to life-stories.” –Bertram J. Cohler, William Rainy Harper Professor, The University of Chicago

“The book certainly deserves the designation ‘handbook’ because it not only provides sections on methodology and content but also blends the two to illustrate critical points about the field…This volume should see wide use.”–CHOICE

“This is a landmark book. All the major living psychobiographers are represented here as chapter authors… This Handbook, more than any other singular contribution, will move psychobiography forward.”–PsycCRITIQUES

“All academic libraries worth their name should immediately add the Handbook of Psychobiography to their collection. It is a useful text for both student and advanced practitioners. Anyone doing psychobiographical work should have the Handbook close by at all times–it is that good.”–Henry Lawton, Clio’s Psyche

“As befits a ‘handbook,’ its coverage is broad and diverse….All historians of psychology are likely to find something of interest in the five insightful psychobiographical sketches of individual psychologists… [Alan] Elm’s chapter well reflects the overall message of this handbook writ small: Psychobiography offers a fascinating and enormously promising approach to both psychology and history.”–Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

“A rich smorgasbord of biographies, as well as of methodologies…Schultz’s Handbook of Psychobiography is a collection of essays significantly advancing our knowledge of the discipline…It can also be read with great value by biographers, clinicians, historians, journalists, political psychologists, psychohistorians, and scholars from many other disciplines.”–Paul Elovitz, Journal of Psychohistory

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