Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Book Review: An Intelligent Life

The word intelligent is so rare in a book title that when I saw this one I couldn't resist taking a look.

Julian Short has practiced psychiatry for more than 30 years and has, undoubtedly, heard and helped a lot of troubled people during that time. Judging from his writing, I wouldn't hesitate to consult with him if I was in need. His book An Intelligent Life: A Practical Guide to Relationships, Intimacy and Self-Esteem is full of down-to-earth wisdom.

In the first section of the book, Short deals with a number of principles and background to living intelligently. He discusses the origin of feelings from an evolutionary point of view (I'll comment on this aspect later); self-esteem as 'a sausage' stuffed with love and individuality needing to be kept in balance; the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and actions; the nature of 'feeling bad'; and unhappiness as a poor esteem.

For Short, the two most important skills for an intelligent life are assertiveness and self-respect. He provides a number of practical steps in achieving these two characteristics. The second section of the book  deals with happiness as a good self-esteem; how to practice a balanced assertiveness; developing self-respect; how to say 'no'; and the direction, anatomy, and structure of argument (a brilliant set of guidelines); surviving criticism; and how to defend one's self.

The third section discusses intelligent love. Short explores various types of relationships: lovers and friends; parents and children; adults with parents; children; and the problems and pitfalls of relationships.

The final section of the book explores the basis of our behaviours —the things we do and the way we are.

Short is a very wise man who writes simply and powerfully. The book is shot through with the fundamental and essential values of love and kindness whilst maintaining a healthy sensitivity to the needs of individuality. Even though most of this author's advice is not new, the way he presents it is fresh and inspiring. He manages to avoid most of the platitudinous nonsense of a lot of contemporary self-help advice.

I need to make one comment regarding the underlying evolutionary theory that informs Short in his explanations for the origins of human thinking, emotions, and behaviour. For some readers who reject evolutionary theory, this aspect might irritate them. But the advice provided by Short is not dependent on this. Ignore it and focus on the practical advice.

An Intelligent Life lives up to its name — this book is filled with truly practical advice that, if applied, could make a genuine difference to your life.

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