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Albert Ellis would want no less than an "all out" review of an autobiography from which he held back nothing you could imagine. He exposes the generally neglectful behavior of his parents while acknowledging (104) the benefits of independence it offered him. He early decides to make himself a sex expert, resulting in a graphic report of his sexual activities from boyhood that often reads like a racy novel. He gives short shrift to psychoanalysts and psychotherapists whom he tags mostly as screwballs with the apparent exception of Adler and Rogers, as well, no doubt, of Horney and her school with whom he trained. He presents mature, critical insights into the therapeutic methods of the day and their shortcomings, including, from the mid-fifties, a Stoicism-influenced Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy that must be the basis of counseling philosophy not to mention of paradox therapy (360). An aggressive confronter of reasons and rationalizations, he often drives his rationality to irrational degrees: an angry letter he calls humorous (496) to a hospital that wouldn't give him non-prescribed insulin as he tried to make a flight, a problem his responsible foresight could have obviated; the decision to fight the fake (580) Albert Ellis Institute when rational analysis shows he chose to give up running it, failed to trademark his name, and didn't think of removing everything important to him over a quiet weekend, letting them have its shell.
Born September 13th, 1913, clinical psychologist Albert Ellis pressed REBT into the sealing wax of the twentieth century well before his death on July 24, 2007, arguably creating current cognitive psychology out of whole cloth. Over this lifetime he describes events that will resonate with the reader's recollections of what it's like to be a child, to interact with parents, siblings, friends, and professionals of a certain character, to have to face frustrations and challenges, and to feel the drive for self-realization. On the conceptual side he manufactures the "vital absorbing interest" (37) to overcome a sense of boredom he also helps others with, "musturbation" (246) to focus on our inauthentic denial of choice, "awfulizing" (124) about what we don't like but won't kill us, unconditional self- (19) and other- (41) acceptance, and much more. A few times he talks about suicide (77, 378) but it's hard to take seriously his Cato-falls-on-sword Stoicism especially since he "very much" (109, 170) doubts following through. He says (170) he's "not at all afraid of death. . . ."
The reader may well consider efficiently reading the book by previewing informational lists Ellis provides (14-15, 43, 60 et passim [italicized topic sentences of the "critique" chapters], 244, 263, 272), while observing that the non-critique chapters end in a crescendo of intensity particularly worth noting. Thus may the reader skim the book, moving lightly over repeated episodes, slipping into low gear over the more important ones.
Eminently human Ellis unintentionally reveals a series of inconsistencies including:
— this "something of a revolutionary" (268) still complains to Dyer about his "plagiarism" (488) in Erroneous Zones, foreshortening the market of Ellis's works, while with his brother (267) he comes up with a textile moneymaker
— he favors open relationships he calls varietism but worries about a "temporary thrill" (301) that would put at risk his late-life relationship with Debbie, "tracked down" (306) another woman whose gadding about he became suspicious of, and becomes jealous of a dog's (345) getting more attention than he as well as of a lesbian (425) relationship a woman he wants has
— he assumes (126) that without a belief in change you can't be a therapist despite the humanistic growth-from-within possibility of realizing at various times more and different aspects of what you already are
With a fist gloved in Pascal's wager, Ellis knocks on the door of atheism, but his probabilistic version of it never enters. His capitalization of the G-word (68-71, 108, 153), always with the sense of a referent that lies out there to be rejected or ignored, make any claim of his being an atheist groundless. Rather than confidently state that he could deconstruct anyone's theurgic argument, he softens his wish to crush "crookedly" rationalized thinking through an admittedly menschlich desire to accept and help
The author's oft-touted voracious reading sometimes falls short of a grasp of grammatical mechanics leaving the cameo-collared schoolmarm with an upraised brow.
Technical publication failures frankly include:
— the author's virtually dispensing with dates which a brief appendix could have supplied
— given Ellis's never-look-back style, the editor's unwillingness to make up for the author's failure easily to reduce 559 pages to 300 or fewer
— Ellis's rejection of a strict chronological in favor of a confusingly repetitive thematic treatment of his life events
— failure to include excerpts from his unpublished novels for our enjoyment and judgment
Emmett Velton has written an authorized biography unlikely to have stepped outside of its subject for a critical look.
In sum, Ellis regales us with reflections and events from an innovative life he describes in an easy-to-read style that (13) "slips off [his] head." The reader will react with surprise and sometimes amazement.
© 2010 Anthony P. Bober
A.P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view. His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields. Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neuroendocrinology.