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Book Reviews   |    
Exuberance: The Passion for Life
Reviewed by Caroline Fisher, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2006; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.57.3.428-a
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by Kay Redfield Jamison; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004, 416 pages, $24.95

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In Exuberance: The Passion for Life, Kay Redfield Jamison tries to give a scientific or sociological account of exuberance. The book is a compendium of charming tales and bold personalities and a thorough examination of the place of joy in our lives and successes. However, it struggles to come to a point.

Exuberance has ten chapters and almost 100 pages of notes. Each chapter is a series of examples of exuberance loosely gathered around a theme. Some of these examples are delightful: the reader is left with the vivid image of Teddy Roosevelt knee deep in violets, and the story about playing catch with an elephant is hilarious. However, the themes are superficial, and no clear argument is offered. The author's thesis goes like this: Some people are exuberant. Children and animals are exuberant in play. Playful creatures are better adapted. Some scientists are exuberant. Some famous people who were exuberant were also successful. People who are exuberant also can suffer other extremes of emotion, but exuberance can be recaptured even in the face of misery. Each theme is given copiously detailed examples, sometimes to the point of tedium, but summaries are in short supply. The whole rhetorical aspect of the book can be easily summarized by minimal alteration to the Cole Porter song Birds Do It.

As an exercise in wonderment about the world, this book sparkles. The joy the author felt in writing it is apparent, and if you are looking for something to cheer you up under the guise of academics, I recommend this book. It is also a rich source of short inspirational stories for public speakers, as well as a celebration of the eccentricities of the scientific mind. The book's failure is that the reader is never once challenged to grow.

Dr. Fisher is affiliated with the department of psychiatry at UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, Massachusetts.




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