Book Review: Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions

The is the second book I have read by Neel Burton.  I published a book review about the first book in November 2021: Book Review: The Meaning of Madness: A Critical Guide to Mental Health and Illness by Neel Burton.  I recommend you read that blog first if you not already done so.

In Heaven and Hell Burton, after a self-confessed dense and technical introduction, discusses 26 emotions ranging from ambition to wonder.  Each chapter is self-contained, very erudite and the book contains a number of interesting insights.  For example in the chapter on Empathy, Burton spends a considerable time distinguishing between empathy and sympathy which many EQ practitioners fail to do.

As some of my followers know my core belief is that the practice of Emotional Intelligence has taken a wrong turning.  To me the secret to lifting your EQ is not to focus on emotions but on temperament, your genetic emotional pre-disposition.  My mantra is that people drive performance, emotions drive people, temperament drives emotions.

The model of temperament I use is based on the Humm-Wadsworth model.  This model postulates that we are all slightly mad and on the spectra of seven mental illnesses. Two are generally dominant, three are average, and two weak.  The mixture of these seven traits determines our temperament which is our genetic emotional predisposition.

So after about reading two-thirds of the book and seeing no mention of temperament I was beginning to incur self-doubts.  Then in the chapter on Ambition I had an eureka moment when I read this passage:

“Unlike mere aspiration, which has a particular goal for object, ambition is a trait or disposition, and, as such, is persistent and pervasive. A person cannot alter her ambition any more than she can alter any other temperamental trait: having achieved one goal, the truly ambitious person soon formulates another at which to keep on striving.”

There is only one other mention of temperamental traits and that is in the introduction:

One can also distinguish between temperamental traits and character traits. Temperamental traits are innate and cannot altogether be altered, whereas character traits are more open, or less closed, to shaping. ‘Character’ derives from the Greek charaktêr, which refers to the mark impressed upon a coin, and character traits can become so ingrained as to imprint themselves onto our physical features. As Coco Chanel once quipped, ‘Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.’

So the reader after finishing this book is the unfortunate position of knowing that there are several temperament traits but only knowing the name of one.  Ambition is certainly a temperamental trait; in my 7MTF model it is related to the Politician.  The mental illness associated with it is paranoia.  But when you start considering the other 7MTF factors you may ask yourself where are the emotions such as fear, obsession and creativity.

I see this as a major failing of the book so while I enjoyed it I can only give 3 stars.

This blog was first published on LinkedIn on 31 January 2022.



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