Nathaniel Branden Reviews...

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Nathaniel Branden Reviews…

Compiled and edited by Roger E. Bissell

Folks, I think that this is a book "whose time has come." Like others, I have been profoundly influenced by the book reviews in The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist, Academic Associates' Book News, Books for Libertarian, Libertarian Review, Reason, etc. I especially appreciate the works of Arthur Koestler, Mortimer Adler, and Henry B. Veatch having been brought to my attention. I can't imagine my outlook being the same without their ideas having been folded into my general Objectivist framework. In addition to the reviews themselves, I envision this book as having a foreward by myself, as well as a capstone essay by Nathaniel on the reviews, including second thoughts, additional comments, and perhaps some broader remarks about book reading for pleasure, education, and research. I'm sure Nathaniel has written more book reviews than these, but I have not perused any of the back issues of Reason, Libertarian Review, etc. to locate them. I'd appreciate help in rounding up additional reviews. When I see Nathaniel later this month, I'm going to present this idea to him, along with the idea for the "lexicon" and the "quotes" books. I'll let you know his reaction to the idea -- or he is welcome to chime in here on the list, of course!...REB

Table of Contents

“An analysis of the novels of Ayn Rand” (in Who is Ayn Rand? 1962) [Most of this material would probably not be included in the compilation.]

    Part I: "The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged" (republished as a monograph by The Objectivist Center)
    Part II: "Objectivism and Psychology" [this might be included, unless Nathaniel strenuously objects
    Part III: "The Literary Method of Ayn Rand" (republished in The Literary Art of Ayn Rand, edited by Will Thomas, 2005, The Objectivist Center)

Planning for Freedom by Ludwig von Mises (September 1962, Objectivist Newsletter) [text added below on 9/05/06]

Reason and Analysis by Brand Blanshard (February 1963, ON) [text added below on 8/29/06]

Human Action by Ludwig von Mises (September 1963, ON) [text added below on 9/05/06]

“Alienation,” with extended comments on Man for Himself, The Art of Loving, The Sane Society, Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm (July-September 1965, ON, republished in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal). [This essay would probably not be included in the compilation.]

The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler (Summer 1969, Academic Associates' Book News #1) [text added below on 6/12/06]

The World of the Formerly Married by Morton M. Hunt (Fall 1969, AABN #2) [text added below on 10/01/06]

The Action Approach by George Weinberg (Fall 1969, AABN #2) [text added below on 10/01/06]

The Ghost in the Machine by Arthur Koestler (Fall 1969, AABN #2) [text added below on 6/21/06]

Man and Aggression by M. F. Ashley Montagu (Holiday 1969, AABN #3) [text added below on 10/01/06]

The Great Psychologists: from Aristotle to Freud by Robert I. Watson (Holiday 1969, AABN #3) [text added below on 10/01/06]

The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes by Mortimer J. Adler (Holiday 1969, AABN #3) [text added below on 8/03/06]

Man vs. the Welfare State by Henry Hazlitt (June 1970, AABN #4) [text added below on 10/01/06]

Human Sexual Inadequacy by William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson (June 1970, AABN #4)

The Sex Researchers by Edward M. Brecher (June 1970, AABN #4)

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (June 1970, AABN #4)

Omnipotent Government, Bureaucracy, Theory and History by Ludwig von Mises (June 1970, AABN #4) [text added below on 9/05/06]

The Love Fraud by Edith de Rham (October 1970, AABN #5)

Excerpt from foreword to Explorations in Hypnosis by Dave Elman (October 1970, AABN #5) [text added below on 9/12/06]

The Natural History of Love by Morton M. Hunt (October 1970, AABN #5)

Libertarianism by John Hospers (Spring 1971, AABN #6)

How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation by Harry Browne, Jr. (Spring 1971, AABN #6)

The Way Things Work: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Technology by Simon and Schuster (Spring 1971, AABN #6)

The University under Siege edited by Jacquelyn Estrada (Spring 1971, AABN #6)

Sex in History by G. Rattray Taylor (Fall 1971, AABN #7)

Four Minutes to Life by Ann Cutler (Fall 1971, AABN #7)

The Complete Guide to Hypnosis by Leslie M. LeCron (Fall 1971, AABN #7) [text added below on 9/12/06]

The New Racism by Lionel Lokos (Fall 1971, AABN #7)

Open Marriage by Nena O’Neill and George O’Neill (1971-72, AABN Mid-Season Bulletin)

The Way Things Work—Volume Two by Simon and Schuster (1971-72, AABN Mid-Season Bulletin)

Sexual Myths and Fallacies by James Leslie McCary (1971-72, AABN Mid-Season Bulletin)

Awareness: Exploring, Experimenting, Experiencing by John Stevens (1971-72, AABN Mid-Season Bulletin)

Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers by Haim Ginott (April 1972, AABN #8 )

Envy by Helmut Schoeck (April 1972, AABN #8 )

Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon (April 1972, AABN #8 )

Psychosomatics by Howard R. and Martha E. Lewis (1972, AABN Mid-Season Bulletin)

Hypnosis: Is It for You? by Lewis R. Wolberg, M.D. (1972, AABN Mid-Season Bulletin) [text added below on 9/12/06]

On Becoming a Person by Carl R. Rogers (1972, AABN Mid-Season Bulletin)

The Right to Be Different by Nicholas N. Kittrie (Fall 1972, AABN #9)

The Mind of Adolph Hitler by Walter C. Langer (Fall 1972, AABN #9)

Atheism: The Case against God by George H. Smith (February 1973, AABN #10) [text added below on 8/24/06]

Prisoners of Psychiatry by Bruce Ennis (February 1973, AABN #10)

Sex Talk by Myron Brenton (February 1973, AABN #10)

The Creative Experience edited by Stanley Rosner and Lawrence E. Abt (May 1973, AABN #11)

The Female Orgasm by Seymour Fisher (May 1973, AABN #11)

Therapist by Ellen Plasil (Summer, 1987, Free Inquiry)

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  • 5 months later...

Good news, folks: while Nathaniel convinced me some time ago that the market for a book of his reviews was probably too small to be feasible for publication, he has agreed to let me post his old Academic Associates Book News reviews one at a time here on Objectivist Living. The condition was that I run each review by him for possible "veto," as well as possible additional comments about the book, its past and current relevance, etc.

So, stay tuned! There is a total of several dozen reviews that could potentially be posted here. The first review will be Nathaniel's review of Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation, one of my all-time favorite books, to be followed next week by Nathaniel's review of Koestler's The Ghost in the Machine, another fascinating and provocative book.

Happy reading -- and feel free to comment!

Best to all,

Roger Bissell

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The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler

reviewed by Nathaniel Branden

Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation “will at once take its place as a classic contribution to the science of the human mind,” writes Cyril Burt in his Foreword. This reviewer enthusiastically agrees.

This major work is a story of the conscious and unconscious processes involved in scientific and in artistic creation—and one of its fascinating aspects is the numerous parallels shown to exist between these two realms of activity. Perhaps the most stunningly original and provocative theory Koestler proposes is that of the continuity (and parallels) between the biological processes by which life advances from less complex to more complex stages on the one hand—and on the other hand, the integrations within the creative human mind by which new advances in science and art are generated.

Koestler’s approach is in total opposition to the automaton view of man that dominates so much of contemporary psychology. His arguments against conventional learning theory in general and behaviorism in particular, concerning their inadequacy to account for the process of thinking and creation, are particularly devastating.

In pursuing his analysis, Koestler draws on many disciplines: biology, experimental psychology, neurology, philosophy, logic—and his erudition in these fields is profoundly impressive. He is a beautiful stylist and a pleasure to read.

One does not have to agree with all of his views and conclusions—and I do not—in order to find this book of immense value. It is so rich in content, so provocative, so stimulating, that psychologists for many years to come can profitably pursue the leads Koestler has offered. For students of psychology and philosophy, it is mandatory reading.

Partial List of Contents:

The Logic of Laughter—Laughter and Emotion—Varieties of Humour—Thinking Aside—The Evolution of Ideas—Science and Emotion—Verbal Creation—Illusion—Art and Progress—The Pathology of Thought—The Genetics of Behaviour—Imprinting and Imitation—Perception and Memory—Learning to Speak—Learning to Think—Habit and Originality—The Importance of Dreaming—Man and Machine—The Denial of Creativity—On Law and Order—On Truth and Beauty—The Unconscious before Freud—The Mechanization of Habits—Aggression and Identification—Man and Animal—Regeneration and Evolution—The Experience of Free Choice—Degrees of Self-Awareness

[This review first appeared in the Summer 1969 issue (#1) of Academic Associates' Book News and was posted to Objectivist Living with the reviewer's permission on Monday, June 12, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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I did a Google search and found that Barbara Branden cites this work by Koestler in The Passion of Ayn Rand. Also, Marsha Enright lectured on Koestler's theory of creativity contained in this work at the 2004 TOC Summer Seminar in Vancouver. I believe she has also cited him in one or more of her journal articles in Objectivity and/or Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. She is invited to share particulars...

Koestler's Act of Creation has been an important influence on my own views of art and music, as can be seen from perusing my three JARS essays, "Music and Perceptual Cognition," "Art as Microcosm: the Real Meaning of the Objectivist Concept of Art," and "Langer and Camus: Unexpected Post-Kantian Affinities with Rand's Aesthetics." The second-mentioned is posted here on O-L in the Aesthetics folder, but here are links to all three articles as posted on my own website:

I also made extensive use of Koestler in a term paper in graduate school in 1970. Here is a link to that essay:

It's also interesting to compare Koestler's theory of humor with Rand's. I leave this as an exercise for the ambitious reader. :-)

Best to all,


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As I said on the thread for Barbara, what a wonderful idea. Bravo! These book reviews are small but important pieces of literature that should be available online.

It is funny for me that you started with The Act of Creation. After I received my conversion blast on reading Atlas Shrugged, then everything else by Rand (and then Branden) that I could find, I decided to branch out philosophy-wise and read other authors. The first book I got was The Act of Creation. I loved it back then. I need to purchase another copy now as my old one is long gone. I want to reread it.

(For some reason I just remembered the joke he analyzed. It was cute but not very funny. If I remember correctly, a peasant remarkably resembled a prince, so the snotty prince asked if his mother had worked in the castle. He responded that his mother had not, but his father did. Heh.)

I am particularly gratified to see that Nathaniel has the same view of The Act of Creation that I do. Also you and Marsha. I remember being gratified like this when I read PAR for the first time and saw it mentioned there.


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The Ghost in the Machine by Arthur Koestler

reviewed by Nathaniel Branden

In desiring enthusiastically to recommend The Ghost in the Machine, I encountered a paradox at the outset. I cannot accept the final conclusions to which the book leads. But I was fascinated and enlightened by the route Arthur Koestler takes to reach those conclusions—I was enthralled by the journey, if not by the author's destination—and it is because of the intellectual benefits to be derived from accompanying Koestler on this journey that I urge the thoughtful reading of this book.

The purpose of The Ghost in the Machine is to provide a scientific explanation for the impulse to destruction (including self-destruction) that has haunted man since his beginnings, Koestler's thesis is that, in the process of evolution, nature, in effect, made a "mistake"—that there is an inbuilt inadequacy of neurological integration between the emotional and rational centers of man’s brain, which results in an inherent propensity for irrational, destructive behavior.

To support this thesis, Koestler undertakes a detailed analysis of the nature of mind, thought and learning, as well as the nature of evolution. It is with this analysis that the book is predominantly concerned—and that constitutes its great value.

Part I of the book is chiefly concerned with psychology: with the nature of thought and learning, with a devastating critique of behavioristic accounts of creativity, and with a fascinating discussion of originality in nature and in human thought.

Koestler then turns, in Part II, to an analysis of the nature of biological evolution, to a critique of the Darwinian theory of evolution by chance mutations, and to the proposal of a far more rationally intelligible way of accounting for the evolution of living systems—including a brilliant explanation of the emergence of new species and new biologically adaptive mechanisms. It is this section of the book that I personally found most illuminating, and I think that most readers will share my reaction.

(I might mention that Koestler’s own account of evolution, which is so immensely persuasive, creates difficulties for his conclusion concerning nature’s alleged evolutionary mistake in creating, in man, neurologically dichotomized centers of reason and emotion.)

From Part III on, Koestler discusses the pathological processes whereby man the individual organism is capable of submerging himself psychologically into a larger social or religious or ideological system—losing his individuality, his critical judgment and his proper contact with reality in so doing—and, as a consequence, exhibiting a degree of cruelty, hostility and destructiveness much beyond anything found in the behavior of an individual acting solely on his own behalf (rather than on behalf of the larger “system” or “cause” into which he has been absorbed). Koestler’s description of this process is magnificent—even though there are aspects and details of his account with which I vigorously disagree.

Indeed, at various points along the way, and long before one comes to Koestler’s neurological explanation of “Original Sin,” I found many views I would challenge. This is not a book to be embraced without reservations. But to the thoughtful, critical reader, it offers the most exciting kind of intellectual stimulation. His book is a treasure house of provocative and illuminating concepts and theories.

[This review first appeared in the Fall 1969 issue (#2) of Academic Associates' Book News and was posted to Objectivist Living with the reviewer's permission on Wednesday, June 21, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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Hi, everybody. (Or hi, whoever is reading this!)

In case anyone cares about such things, it's a good idea for me to point out that the first two reviews were posted out of sequence, since they are by the same author.

Although it means deviating from slavish replication of every last key stroke in the original published versions of Barbara's and Nathaniel's reviews, I have taken the liberty of correcting spelling and grammatical errors (those rubbed in my face by Microsoft Word's spell checker, anyway!) Also, in the interest of consistency, I have replaced quote marks and boldface with italics, in the few instances italics was not used in the original.

But enough of the dry, technical stuff. I hope you all find these reviews as interesting and savory as I did 35 years ago -- and still do! There are many more reviews to come in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned.



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Good news! I have finished inputting all of the Academic Associates Book News reviews by Barbara and Nathaniel. Now, I will backtrack to The Objectivist Newsletter, where each of them has some more book reviews, then to The Objectivist, where Barbara has a half dozen or so additional book and movie reviews.

I also located Barbara's movie review in the October 1974 Books for Libertarians that Chris Grieb referred me to, as well as another book review by Barbara in the October 1975 Books for Libertarians. Once I finish inputting all these remaining items, I will email Nathaniel and Barbara their respective files, so that they can nix any items they'd rather not have posted here.

So, stay tuned!


P.S. -- While tracking these items down, I also found a review by Roy A. Childs of Nathaniel's lecture course, Basic Principles of Objectivism, as well as a review by Jeff Riggenbach of Barbara's lecture course, Principles of Efficient Thinking. I would like to post those, too -- not in this folder, of course, but on the respective lecture folders here on Branden Corner. I don't know who is in charge of Roy Childs' estate, now that Joan Kennedy Taylor has passed away, so suggestions on whom to ask for permission to post this review would be appreciated. As for Jeff Riggenbach's review, I will ask him directly.

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(I posted the following note on the Barbara book reviews thread, and it applies here too.)


You have my deepest gratitude for this project. When I started devoting my time to this site, this kind of work was precisely what I had in mind. I know many Objectivists are also extremely grateful to be able to access this material.



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  • 1 month later...

The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes by Mortimer J. Adler

reviewed by Nathaniel Branden

How does man differ from all other living organisms? What is his distinctive nature? What evidence—scientific or philosophical or both—is available to help provide an answer to this problem?

In this fascinating book, Mortimer J. Adler examines in detail the various ways in which man differs from everything else in the universe. He examines the theories of philosophers, ancient and modern, as they bear on this issue; he systematically reviews the accounts of man’s evolution by biologists and paleoanthropologists; then he turns to the studies of animal and human behavior by comparative and behavioral psychologists. At the end of his examination, he builds what I regard as a conclusive and unanswerable case to support the conclusion that man is uniquely the reasoning animal, the one species on earth possessing the power of conceptual thought.

I must add, regretfully, that I am in profound disagreement with Dr. Adler’s view of the nature of concepts, as well as with several other positions he takes in this lucid and scholarly work. This is a book to be read very critically indeed. But in an age when there is such a concerted effort, coming from so many directions, to deny the distinction between man and lower animals, his case for “the difference of man” comes as a welcome source of invaluable intellectual ammunition.

[This review first appeared in the Holiday 1969 issue (#3) of Academic Associates' Book News and was posted to Objectivist Living with the reviewer's permission on Thursday, August 3, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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Note: The following review by Nathaniel Branden of Therapist by Ellen Plasil was posted by Ellen Stuttle, with comments, in the July 17-27 2006 black hole. We don't know the exact date. Ellen is travelling for a couple of week and sent me the text to put up. She also sent an answer to Fran that was lost, so I am including it here also. As an aside, I ended up reading Therapist after this review was lost. I will comment on it later.


Review of Therapist:

Spare yourself the search, Roger and/or Jerry. I have the review, as reprinted in Liberty. I don't know which issue of Liberty, only the page numbers (pp. 50-51) -- my copy is a Xerox, and the person who sent me the Xerox neglected to specify the issue number and date.

There's a footnote which says:

This review originally appeared in the Summer, 1987 issue of Free Inquiry and is reprinted with permission.

The review is short, and I'll type it in. (I'm assuming that Nathaniel would have retained use permission, though I don't know if the review was copyrighted by him or by Free Inquiry -- and since he's given Roger permission to reprint his reviews, I expect that extends to this one. If Michael or Roger thinks there's any problem about copyright infringement, either of them can delete the post.)

I think the review isn't Nathaniel at his finest, with the little swipes at Allan Blumenthal. But here it is:

Therapist, by Ellen Plasil New York: St. Martin's/Marke, 1985, 224 pp., $13.95 hb., $3.95 pb.

The Dark Side of Objectivism

by Nathaniel Branden

Therapist is Ellen Plasil's account of her four and a half years of treatment by a prominent New York "Objectivist" psychiatrist. Her book is of special interest to me because of my past association with Ayn Rand and the Objectivist subculture.

The author was raised by Objectivist parents. Almost from the day she was born they abused her physically and mentally in an appalling number of ways, including sexually, and at the same time lectured her on "reason, "independence," and all the other routine cliches used by Ayn Rand's professed admirers without any true appreciation of their meaning.

In 1972, at twenty-one, Plasil found herself in an unhappy marriage and suffering from depression, so she moved to New York City in search of psychiatric treatment. She put herself in the hands of Dr. Lonnie Leonard, who had been recommended by Dr. Allen [sic] Blumenthal, a leading objectivist psychiatrist.

[i, ES, interject: By the time Ellen Plasil started "therapy" with Lonnie, Allan was no longer recommending clients to him -- he stopped doing that in early 1971; but Lonnie had a long wait period before he started seeing a client, and the recommendation had been made well before EP's move to New York.]

In the course of her treatment, Leonard informed her that he was the "healthiest" man he had ever known and that an important indicator of a woman's own "health" was whether or not she responded to him "romantically." From there it was only a short step to insisting that Plasil satisfy him sexually. But she was merely to satisfy him and thereby be fulfilled. It would be proof of her femininity. Using the authority of his position, Leonard intimidated, threatened, and abused her. He called her "scum," and, for all practical purposes, he raped her. In other words, he recreated the nightmare of her childhood, while telling her repeatedly that he was her only hope for salvation. (This is quite different from the more familiar story of a psychotherapist who becomes infatuated with his client and has an affair with her.) Plasil's dependency on Leonard made her submissive and compliant.

The author by this time had left her husband. Her social contacts in New York were limited almost entirely to fellow patients of Leonard, and they all apparently worshipped him. She moved in a world where a person's most insignificant actions and preferences were scrutinized to determine whether he or she was a "good objectivist." Tastes in art, novels, and films were evaluated from the standpoint of Ayn Rand's personal likes and dislikes. In Objectivist circles, Leonard enjoyed a God-like status. [ES interjects: among his clients, not amongst all Objectivist circles.] Plasil did not feel safe in discussing her growing anxiety and doubts. She would have been accused of treason.

Of course not all enthusiasts of Objectivism manifest this foolishness; the majority of them are independent, decent, clear-thinking human beings. But there is an irrational, cultish tendency in many intellectual movements, and Objectivism, alas, is no exception. Ayn Rand's personal obsession with loyalty did little to discourage this trend, even though she doubtless would have been horrified by Dr. Leonard's practices. Rand had often protested, "Protect me from my followers!"

Finally, after many months of struggling with the question of whether Leonard had a legitimate purpose for his bizarre behavior at the therapy sessions (for example, greeting her stark naked, video-taping her in a similar state, spread-eagled on the floor, and so on), Plasil telephoned Dr. Blumenthal. When she attempted to discuss her misgivings with him, he said he could not talk to her while she was Leonard's client. Besides, he insisted, he already knew what she wanted to say. When she tried to verify what he claimed to know, he hung up. The nightmare grew worse. But Plasil's doubt and anger also grew when she discovered that Leonard's other female clients had had similar experiences. [ES: some of Leonard's other female clients, not all of them; he also had techniques of undermining his male clients' self-esteem, though Plasil doesn't appear from her book to have learned much information about those.] After four and a half years of therapy, with outrage piled upon outrage, she decided to fight back. She terminated her therapy, and, with several other of Leonard's victims, she initiated legal action against him. Not surprisingly, shortly afterward Leonard announced that he was giving up his practice. Plasil was then accused by [ES: some of] his other clients of causing irreparable harm to a great man.

I had a similar experience when I broke with Ayn Rand. I had left the New York circle of Objectivists in the late 1960s, years before the events in this book took place. I did not know Dr. Leonard, but I did help to launch Dr. Blumenthal's career. Although I repudiated him many years ago (we repudiated each other, you might say), I confess I read this story with embarrassment and sadness for having played even a small part in it. But perhaps, from one perspective, my part was not really so small. Did I not, together with Ayn Rand, help to create the kind of subculture in which irrationality and inhumanity could exist (even if, to repeat, we would have been horrified at this particular manifestation)? Blumenthal may protest that Leonard is not his creature, but I am not quite comfortable in protesting that Blumenthal is not mine. The bad judgments of our past do come back to haunt us.

Plasil won her case, and Dr. Leonard settled out of court. He is now working as a beekeeper in Florida. [ES: He died in the early '90s -- so I've heard, from excessive drinking.] She has remarried happily and is working on a law degree.

Therapist is written with great simplicity, clarity, and dignity, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the psychology of cultism and how individuals can be led to suspend their moral judgment and their common sense in the name of idealism and loyalty--and out of an overzealous desire to belong somewhere. Plasil has something important to say to all of us.

Fran, I fully sympathize with your reaction about Allan Blumenthal's behavior in the phone call from Ellen Plasil. I was sickened by hearing of this when I learned of it -- which was back in the late '70s when the news hit "the Objectivist streets" that Plasil and some others were instituting a suit against Lonnie. At that time, my only basis for interpreting why Allan had done what he'd done was his sense of propriety being misapplied. Allan was characterized by a strong sense of propriety ("appropriate" was one of his most-used words -- sometimes drove me nuts). I haven't time to try to describe my frustrated history with Allan. I liked Allan very much, and often found him perceptive, but I thought he was hampered by his being an Objectivist and being in close relationship (part of "the Inner Circle") with Rand. I was always hoping to prise him away from Rand and to make of him what I thought of (though I didn't have a good definition for what I meant) as "a real psychologist." (Either not long before or not long after the news about the LL scandal became public -- I'm forgetting the exact sequence of events, but it was within close proximity -- Allan at last did split with Rand, to my great joy.)

Later -- and by that I mean many years later, in 1997 -- I started to think that maybe there'd been more to it than his "sense of propriety" about breaching what he thought of as professional conduct in regard to a fellow psychiatrist. It was details in Plasil's book, which I only read in 1997, that aroused a suspicion in my mind, the suspicion that Lonnie might have physically threatened Allan himself and/or Joan. Lonnie's threatening Joan would have been the more scary threat. I began to suspect this because of some details in the Plasil book. Lonnie muses, suppose a person were posing a risk to someone's career, wouldn't it be justified to murder the person? Plasil was frightened by these musings, taking them as directed at her. But details in what she wrote -- combined with some things which had puzzled me which Allan himself said back at the time in question -- led me to wonder if it wasn't Allan whom Lonnie had in mind.

I don't know if there was such an issue involved, if Lonnie did make threats. I do know that Lonnie could have been quite terrifying, with his feline muscular coordination, his personality, and his knowledge of martial arts. Joan would have been no match for him were he to physically aggress; nor would Allan have been able to defend himself. If my suspicion is at all right, this would leave me feeling better about Allan's behavior. But I don't suppose I'll ever know for sure if there's anything to the suspicion.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith

reviewed by Nathaniel Branden

In this book, the author presents the most comprehensive and devastating analysis and critique of theism that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Clearly and simply, but without “writing down” or over-simplifying complex problems, Mr. Smith leads the reader through an examination of the many issues involved in the notion of a supernatural being—the metaphysical and epistemological issues in particular—and patiently demolishes, one by one, every significant alleged justification for belief in a supernatural being.

Mr. Smith begins by pointing out that atheism is not a belief but rather the absence of a belief—the absence of a belief in a god. This means that the atheist does not have to prove anything. The burden of proof is on the theist. He shows, further, that agnosticism is not a viable “third position,” but is a species of atheism, since the agnostic, like the atheist, does not hold a belief in a god.

Mr. Smith then proceeds to explore the notion of a supernatural being, and shows in what ways the notion is unintelligible and leads to hopeless self-contradictions. He moves on to examine—and refute—the various “justifications” for theism that theologians have provided, as well as the more popular “justifications” usually resorted to by laymen. When Mr. Smith has finished his job, nothing is left standing of theism, Christian theology or Christianity itself. Whether or not every reader will have the intellectual integrity and honesty to appreciate this fact is, of course, another question—about which it is doubtless futile to speculate.

Several books have been written in recent years aimed at refuting theism and supernaturalism. But I consider this book the best written by far, the most comprehensive, and the best suited to the philosophical layman. (Antony Flew’s superb God and Philosophy, for instance, is difficult for the philosophically untrained reader.) Lucidly written, eminently objective and fair-minded, Atheism: The Case Against God is an invaluable contribution not only to philosophy but also to psychology—because I believe that this book will be liberating to the many persons who have been harmed mentally and emotionally by childhood exposure to the teachings of religion. I have never been happier to recommend a book. The author is to be congratulated on a superlative achievement.

[This review first appeared in the February 1973 issue (#10) of Academic Associates' Book News and was posted to Objectivist Living with the reviewer's permission on Thursday, August 24, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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Hi Roger

Hurray, thanks for posting this! It looks like just the kind of book that I'm looking for and was relieved to find that it's still in print. I've just ordered a copy for myself and maybe I could buy a dozen copies and send them to prominent Christians in the UK - PM Tony Blair being one of them ;-)


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Special request:

The Academic Associates Book News at one time published a statement from Nathaniel Branden's lawyer after Holzer had denounced Branden's sale of his recorded NBI lectures. If you have the text of this statement it would be a valuable document in the ongoing wrangles over who "owns" Objectivism.


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It's a wonderful book. After calling myself an agnostic for nearly twenty years, this book helped get me off the fence. I highly recommend it. I read this book shortly before I read Atlas Shrugged for the first time. These two books lifted the fog for me.


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Reason and Analysis by Brand Blanshard

reviewed by Nathaniel Branden

Both reason as a source of knowledge and rationality as a practical ideal are today under attack. Indeed there has been no period in the past two thousand years when they have undergone a bombardment so varied, so competent, so massive and sustained as in the last half-century.

This statement is made by Brand Blanshard in the opening pages of Reason and Analysis. There is only one word in the statement that I would challenge: the word “competent.” And I offer, in support of my disagreement, Professor Blanshard’s own brilliant critique: when one has finished reading his analysis of the irrationalist movement in contemporary philosophy, “competent” is a word that scarcely seems applicable to those whose doctrines he so lucidly and devastatingly exposes.

His critique is directed specifically at “logical positivism and the linguistic philosophies that have succeeded it.” (For a critical analysis of pragmatist epistemology, see his The Nature of Thought, Vol. 1, Macmillan, 1939.) He traces the development of positivism and linguistic analysis from their roots in Hume, sets forth their main contentions, and then proceeds to subject their arguments and conclusions to a scrutiny that is dispassionate, courteous, meticulous—and deadly.

As he observes, “the task of the expositor is a baffling one. He has no sooner, with some effort, mastered a particular position and matured his estimate of it than he is told that this position was abandoned some years or some weeks ago, and that he is therefore flogging dead horses.” The movement “has been kaleidoscopic in the quickness of its changes, which have followed each other at such a pace that the writing and printing of books could not keep up with it and it has had to register its changes in a bewildering profusion of notes and articles.”

These difficulties notwithstanding, one of the most impressive features of Reason and Analysis is the clarity of its exposition; Professor Blanshard exhibits a remarkable ability to impart intelligibility to positions not conspicuous for that attribute.

His historical account is superb. He discusses: the early positivism of Mach, with Mach’s assertion that all scientific laws must merely describe relationships among our percepts, with the implicit dismissal of conceptual explanation as mythology or “metaphysics”—the conventionalism of Poincaré, with its announcement that the laws and definitions of mathematics say nothing about the real world, but merely express “conventions” adopted on the grounds of “convenience”—Russell’s Principia Mathematica and the theory of logical atomism, with the banishment of necessity from logic and the assertion that no fact of reality necessarily entails any other—the verifiability theory of meaning of the Vienna Circle, which seeks to divorce “meaning” from consciousness or concepts, and which has, at various stages, dismissed as “meaningless” statements about the self, the minds of other men, the past, the future, electrons, moral values, and the nature of reality—the declaration of the logical positivists that no proposition known to be necessarily true refers to the facts of reality and no proposition that refers to the facts of reality can be known with certainty to be true—the linguistic analysis of Wittgenstein, with its pronouncement that the task of philosophy is not to solve philosophical problems, but to “dissolve” them, by “teasing out” the confusions in philosopher’ use of language. And thus Professor Blanshard traces the main steps of modern philosophy’s descent into a nightmare blend of neo-mysticism and unutterable triviality.

One of the most interesting chapters in his book is devoted to the verifiability theory of meaning. This is the much-touted doctrine that promised to bring an unprecedented precision and clarity to philosophical discourse. Unfortunately, the theory itself—as Professor Blanshard shows—is a masterpiece of unclarity and ambiguity. Cast in its most general form, it asserts that the meaning of any factual statement is the observations that would verify it. But what exactly does this mean? That, as it turns out, is the problem. There is not one “verifiability theory of meaning,” but many—as attempt after attempt has been made, and reformulation after reformulation has been offered, in the vain effort to endow the theory with consistency, intelligibility, applicability, value or meaning. Professor Blanshard leads the reader through the main stages of these attempts, quietly dissecting and unmasking version after version, with the patience of a saint and the skill of a surgeon.

In For the New Intellectual, Ayn Rand observes that the dominant trend of modern philosophy has been a concerted attack on man’s conceptual faculty. While Professor Blanshard does not draw this conclusion explicitly, his analysis provides ample evidence in support of Miss Rand’s statement. From his presentation, one can see in what manner the central thrust of the verifiability doctrine, in all its stages, is in the direction of by-passing the conceptual form of cognition and reducing man’s consciousness to the animal level of sensory perception.

One of the clearest instances of the subjectivism of positivist epistemology is its assertion that the laws of logic and mathematics are merely “conventions”—arbitrary rules of discourse, of the use of terms—that indicate nothing about the facts of reality. “The principles of logic and mathematics,” A. J. Ayer informs us, “are true universally simply because we never allow them to be anything else.” (I cannot refrain from observing that if a man were to make such a statement using the first person singular pronoun, his problem would surely be regarded as psychiatric; it is curious to note what men permit themselves when hiding behind the plural pronoun.)

Professor Blanshard analyzes the conventionalist or linguistic theory of logic and mathematics in exhaustive detail, exposing the almost endless series of contradictions which it engenders.

To deny the law [of contradiction] means to say that it is false rather than true, that its being false excludes its being true. But this is the very thing that is supposedly denied. One cannot deny the law of contradiction without presupposing its validity in the act of denying it. We accept the law and must accept it, because “nature has said it.” If we hold that a thing cannot at once have a property and not have it, it is because we see that it cannot. The law of contradiction is at once the statement of a logical requirement and the statement of an ontological truth.

In reversing the actual order of things, and declaring that our view of reality reflects our use of language, rather than vice versa, the positivists, Professor Blanshard observes, “are telling us in effect that the only reason why the Rocky Mountains do not appear in the Great Lakes is that the map forbids them to.”

One of the dominant themes in twentieth-century philosophy is a profound hostility to metaphysics, to any comprehensive view of reality or any inquiry concerning the nature of things. Philosophers are conducting an impassioned crusade for myopia as the highest intellectual virtue—for the progressive shrinking of man’s vision and the progressive divorcement of thought from reality. This trend has reached its apogee in that curious movement known as linguistic analysis.

The animus toward any sort of general principles extends to the linguistic analysts’ view of their own activity. Nothing is more futile than the attempt to extract from a linguistic analyst an intelligible statement of what linguistic analysis is. To quote Professor Blanshard: the attempt to define this movement “is complicated…by the notorious reluctance of these philosophers to talk about what they are doing in general terms; if they are asked what philosophy means for them, they are apt to say, ‘it is the sort of thing I am doing now,’ and return to their work.”

It is safe to say, however, that one of the chief contentions of the linguistic school is that earlier philosophers had misconceived the task of philosophy: they had falsely imagined that their task was to discover basic truths about existence, about man and the universe about how man should conduct his life. The actual mission of philosophy, linguistic analysts tell us, is to explicate the usage of words, to identify the sort of “work” words do in “ordinary language,” and, by analyzing deviations from this usage, to cure those “mental cramps” which the uninitiated think of as philosophical problems. The concept of philosophical problems as “mental cramps” is Wittgenstein’s: what he proposes to offer, in place of philosophical answers, is linguistic therapy.

(In reading the various doctrines and versions of linguistic analysis, one is irresistibly reminded of a statement made by Hugh Akston in Atlas Shrugged: “People would not employ a plumber who’d attempt to prove his professional excellence by asserting that there’s no such thing as plumbing—but, apparently, the same standards of caution are not considered necessary in regard to philosophy.”)

Professor Blanshard writes: “The discussion of words in philosophy is prefatory and preparatory only. How expressions are used is not a philosophical problem. How they ought to be used is a philosophical problem, but not primarily one about words at all, but about the character and relations of the objects talked about.”

In bringing to light the underlying irrationalism of the analytic movement, Professor Blanshard may be said to have administered some admirable philosophical “therapy” of his own, but not of the linguistic variety; his treatment is an unqualified success: the patient died—but philosophy survived.

It is necessary to mention that many of Professor Blanshard’s own philosophical premises are deeply at variance with those of Objectivism. He is a representative of the Absolute Idealist school of thought, and there is much in his book with which an Objectivist cannot agree: for instance, his views concerning the nature of universals and the relation of thought to reality.

One may take issue with any of Professor Blanshard’s own philosophical views, however, and still appreciate the enormous value of his book. No honest man can read it through to the end and retain any serious regard for the philosophical schools at which his critique is directed. Since these schools are currently dominant, it is scarcely to be expected that the book will receive the justice it deserves from the philosophical profession. The real beneficiaries of the book, and its most significant readers, will be the younger generation, the college students who are to be the writers, the teachers, the intellectuals of tomorrow. Struggling in the dense jungle of today’s epistemological nihilism, they will find in Reason and Analysis a powerful weapon to help them cut their way through to a clearer view of the proper nature of philosophy.

[This review first appeared in the February 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter and was posted to Objectivist Living with the reviewer's permission on Tuesday, August 29, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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Planning for Freedom by Ludwig von Mises

reviewed by Nathaniel Branden

The economic essays of Ludwig von Mises are always a pleasure to read. They combine elegant simplicity with patient and devastating logical rigor. A collection of hi essays and addresses, in a new, enlarged edition, has recently been published by the Libertarian Press. It is entitled Planning for Freedom. We recommend it enthusiastically to our readers.

The essays cover a wide range of subjects: Nazism or fascism as a variety of socialism; minimum wage rates as a cause of mass unemployment; Keynesianism as a resurrection of the theories of nineteenth-century “money cranks”; the fallacy of the belief that labor unions can raise the general standard of living; the nature of profit and loss; the dominance of collectivist teachings in our universities—to mention only a few.

In one of the most interesting essays of the book, “Profit and Loss,” Mises writes:

It is not the capital employed that creates profits and losses. Capital does not “beget profit” as Marx thought. The capital goods as such are dead things that in themselves do not accomplish anything. If they are utilized according to a good idea, profit results. If they are utilized according to a mistaken idea, no profit, or losses, result. It is the entrepreneurial decision that creates either profit or loss. It is mental acts, the mind of the entrepreneur, from which profits ultimately originate. Profit is a product of the mind, of success in anticipating the future sate of the market. It is a spiritual and intellectual phenomenon.

Elsewhere in the same essay, Mises writes:

The average wage earner thinks that nothing else is needed to keep the social apparatus of production running and to improve and to increase output than the comparatively simple routine work assigned to him. He does not realize that the mere toil and trouble of the routinist is not sufficient. Sedulousness and skill are spent in vain if they are not directed…by the entrepreneur’s foresight and are not aided by the capital accumulated by capitalists. The American worker is badly mistaken when he believes that his high standard of living is due to his own excellence. He is neither more industrious nor more skillful than the workers of Western Europe. He owes his superior income to the fact that his country clung to “rugged individualism” much longer than Europe. It was his luck that the United States turned to an anti-capitalistic policy as much as forty or fifty years later than Germany. His wages are higher than those of the workers of the rest of the world because the capital equipment per head of the employee is highest in America and because the American entrepreneur was not so much restricted by crippling regimentation as his colleagues in other areas. The comparatively greater prosperity of the United States is an outcome of the fact that the New Deal did not come in 1900 or 1910, but only in 1933.

Advocates of government intervention in the economy take great pains to evade acknowledging the dictatorial nature of their proposals. But Mises never permits this issue to be forgotten. In an essay entitled “Laissez Faire or Dictatorship,” he writes:

Professor Harold Laski, the former chairman of the British Labor Party, determined the objective of planned direction of investment as “the use of the investor’s savings will be in housing rather than in cinemas.” It does not matter whether or not one agrees with the professor’s personal view that better houses are more important than moving pictures. The fact is that consumers, by spending part of their money for admission to the movies, have made another choice. If the masses of Great Britain, the same people whose votes swept the Labor Party into power, were to stop patronizing the moving pictures and to spend more for comfortable homes and apartments, profit-seeking business would be forced to invest more in building homes and apartment houses, and less in the production of swanky pictures. What Professor Laski aimed at is to defy the wishes of the consumers and to substitute his own will for theirs. He wanted to do away with the democracy of the market and to establish the absolute rule of a production czar. He might pretend that he is right from a “higher” point of view, and that as a superman he is called upon to impose his own set of values on the masses of inferior men. But then he should have been frank enough to say so plainly.

In “Economic Teaching at the Universities,” originally published in 1952, Mises recounts an incident that is strikingly timely today:

A few years ago a House of Representatives Subcommittee on Publicity and Propaganda in the Executive Departments, under the chairmanship of Representative Forest A. Harness, investigated Federal propaganda operations. On one occasion the Committee had as a witness a government-employed doctor. When asked if his public speeches throughout the country presented both sides of the discussion touching compulsory national health insurance, this witness answered: “I don’t know what you mean by both sides.”

Planning for Freedom is chiefly concerned with exposing the disastrous effects of government intervention in economics. As an introduction to the issues involved in capitalism versus the “mixed economy,” it is an ideal companion piece to Mises’ Planned Chaos and Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

[This review first appeared in the Sepember 1962 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter and was posted to Objectivist Living with the reviewer's permission on Tuesday, September 5, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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Human Action by Ludwig von Mises

reviewed by Nathaniel Branden

Through a long and distinguished career, Professor Ludwig von Mises has been a powerful advocate of laissez-faire capitalism. He has written many lucid and scholarly books dealing with the operation of a free market economy, and with the attacks leveled against it by supporters of collectivism. Among the most important of these books are: The Theory of Money and Credit (1912), a treatise on the nature, origin and functions of banking, credit and interest, and on the problems of inflation and deflation; Socialism (1922), a devastating refutation of every known version of socialist or collectivist economic theory; and Omnipotent Government (1944), an analysis of the historical and intellectual origins of the Nazi state, demonstrating the relationship between government regulation of the economy and aggressive nationalism.

In 1949, Professor Mises published Human Action—a definitive presentation of his economic theories. The book has had five printings, and recently has been re-issued in a new, revised edition. In scope and importance, it is clearly the climax of his previous works.

In Human Action, Professor Mises offers a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the nature of production and trade. He shows why a free economy is necessarily the most productive and efficient; why coercive interference with men’s free choices in the market invariably leads to a lowering of the standard of living; why slavery is incompatible with an industrial civilization.

Among the many issues he discusses are: economic calculation in a market economy; the determinants of prices, wages and production policies; the gold standard; interest rates and credit expansion; the causes of depression; the impossibility of rational economic calculation in a socialist system (this demonstration is one of his most important achievements); the contradictions and destructiveness of interventionism; common misconceptions concerning the history and nature of capitalism; the economics of war; confiscatory taxation.

One of the great merits of the book is its encyclopedic character; it deals with virtually every major problem in economic theory. It contains many historical illustrations and references that provide further illumination—such as, for instance, a discussion of the “welfare state” policies of the disintegrating Roman Empire, and the manner in which these policies made the Empire vulnerable to the barbarian invaders (an analogy that is far from academic in our present political context).

Today, government officials and economics of the statist persuasion clearly believe that there are no economic laws, no immutable principles regarding production and trade—and that, given sufficient power they may impose any regulations or controls they wish and still retain a high level of material prosperity. Thus, they believe that they can pass legislation which results in forcing wages above their market level, and yet escape the consequence of unemployment; they believe that they can dictate the pricing and production policies of industrialists, and yet suffer no consequent diminution of goods and services; they believe that they can indulge in unlimited deficit spending, and yet avoid inflation; they believe that they can manipulate the money supply, expanding credit at whim, and yet escape a depression; they believe that they can create an atmosphere of chronic uncertainty, and yet have men continue to invest and produce, happily and confidently. When their plans fail, when economic disaster occurs, they do not question their policies, they denounce the “selfish greed” of businessmen for thwarting the noble plans that would have worked if everyone had wanted them to work. It is the barbaric absurdity of these belief—the dream which sees economic laws as a myth and the social planner’s whim as omnipotent—that Professor Mises brilliantly exposes. He delineates the principles that necessarily operate in an exchange economy, establishing the conditions on which successful material production necessarily depends. To put the matter another way: he brings the law of causality into the context of man’s productive activity.

In justice to Professor Mises’ position and our own, it must be mentioned that there are many sections of Human Action with which Objectivists cannot agree. These sections pertain, not to the sphere of economics as such, but to the philosophical framework in which his economic theories are presented. We must take the gravest exception, for example, to the general doctrine of praxeology; to the assertion that all value-judgments are outside the province of reason; that a scientific ethics is impossible; to the disavowal of the concept of inalienable rights; and to many of the psychological views expressed.

Notwithstanding these reservations, the book is of the first rank of importance, eminently deserving of careful study. It is a major economic classic. As a reference work, it belongs in the library of every advocate of capitalism.

[This review first appeared in the Sepember 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter and was posted to Objectivist Living with the reviewer's permission on Tuesday, September 5, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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Omnipotent Government, Bureaucracy, Theory and History by Ludwig von Mises

reviewed by Nathaniel Branden

Professor Ludwig von Mises is our most distinguished living economist. As a leading exponent of the Austrian School of Economics, he has been a scholarly and passionate champion of freedom and free enterprise for more than half a century. Unfortunately, three of his most important books—Omnipotent Government, Bureaucracy and Theory and History—have been out of print for some time. Now, thanks to Arlington House Publishers, they are again available.

In Omnipotent Government, Professor von Mises provides an explanation of the international conflicts that caused both world wars, and of the ideological issues behind those conflicts. He shows very clearly and persuasively the relationship between governmental intervention into the economy and the consequent growth of belligerent nationalism. He also shows the relationship between free trade and free enterprise, on the one hand, and world peace, on the other.

He supports his analysis with a review of the events that gave rise to Nazism and prevented Germany and the rest of the world from stopping it. But although the analysis of the rise of Nazi Germany is fascinating in its own right, its importance to modern readers lies in the wider principles involved that are dramatically relevant to the world crisis today.

Bureaucracy is a brilliantly informative analysis of the radical difference between bureaucratic management and management for profit. “There are two methods for the conduct of human affairs within the frame of human society,” writes Professor von Mises. “One is bureaucratic management, the other is profit management.” Professor von Mises’ point is not a condemnation of bureaucracy as such; on the contrary, in the management of a government pursuing its proper functions it is useful and necessary. It becomes a disaster only when it is the method employed in areas where private enterprise ought to be free to function. That is, it becomes a disaster when government attempts to manage the economy in whole or in part. The reader will find this little book immensely interesting and enlightening; it belongs in the library of any supporter of Capitalism.

Theory and History is a more philosophical work than the two preceding ones; and, I regret to say, contains a good deal of material with which I cannot agree—for example, Professor von Mises’ subjectivist theory of values. The book is concerned with theoretical interpretations of history, and contains a magnificent critique of dialectical materialism (to me, the most valuable chapter in the book); it also contains excellent critical commentaries on positivism, behaviorism and historicism. Indeed, I believe the chief value of this work lies in its critical sections, which constitute a major portion of the book. Theory and History undeniably deserves the attention of every serious student of free enterprise.

Speaking personally, I have never found economics a particularly exciting subject. But Professor von Mises’ books were among the very first that I read, when I initially became interested in problems of political economy—and to this day I find myself returning to them, again and again, for the pleasure and instruction [inspiration?] of observing a brilliant mind bring clarity and sanity to a field in which clarity and sanity tend to be so conspicuously absent.

[This review first appeared in the June 1970 issue (#4) of Academic Associates' Book News and was posted to Objectivist Living with the reviewer's permission on Tuesday, September 5, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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Explorations in Hypnosis by Dave Elman

An excerpt from the Foreword by Nathaniel Branden

I first encountered the work of Dave Elman nearly ten years ago when a psychiatric colleague invited me to listen to a set of Elman’s recorded lectures on hypnosis. At that time, Dave Elman was conducting classes in hypnosis for physicians and dentists, as he had been doing for some years, and the recordings were taken directly from his classes.

I had been vaguely interested in hypnosis for a long time, but had never really pursued it; this was my formal introduction to the subject. I could not have asked for a better teacher.

In the years that followed, I listened to and observed many distinguished experts in clinical hypnosis; I heard many lectures and saw many demonstrations. I learned about many techniques more sophisticated than those presented in Elman’s course. But it was Elman who taught me the fundamentals, it was Elman who gave me a feeling for the subject—and it is still Elman who, in my judgment, offers the best introduction to the field.

Dave Elman died several years ago, but Explorations in Hypnosis is the summary of his work. Based on the course he taught to thousands of physicians and dentists, it is an immensely valuable contribution to the literature of the subject—especially for the beginning student…

It has taken many years for hypnosis to gain scientific “respectability.” In many circles it has not gained that “respectability” yet. It has had to fight an uphill battle against fierce and bitter opposition. In the minds of the uninformed, hypnosis is still associated with mysticism and charlatanism. It is only within the last two or three decades that the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association have given it formal recognition and sanction as a valuable therapeutic instrument.

Research into the possibilities of hypnosis has been growing at an accelerating pace ever since World War II, and exciting new developments in the field are breaking year by year. There are many who believe—and I am one of them—that the possibilities inherent in hypnosis have barely been glimpsed; that its potential uses as an instrument of therapy (or an aid to therapy) in such field as psychology, psychiatry, general medicine, dentistry, surgery, obstetrics, gynecology, anesthesiology and pediatrics have only begun to be explored and appreciated—and that we are standing on the edge of an immensely promising frontier.

For those who wish to approach this frontier—either as professionals who desire to advance into the new territory or as laymen who are interested in this field of scientific progress—I enthusiastically recommend Dave Elman as a guide. Explorations in Hypnosis is the place to begin.

[This passage first appeared in the October 1970 issue (#5) of Academic Associates' Book News and was posted to Objectivist Living with the author's permission on Tuesday, September 12, 2006. Comments and questions are welcome.]

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