There has been a dramatic rise in the number of psychology students. Recent reports suggest that psychology is the most popular undergraduate disciplinary choice and we must now be seeing 5,000 new British graduates every year. This has meant the rapid racheting up of A-level requirements, but also the introduction of textbooks to cope with the numbers.
There must be a dozen British- authored introductory texts to choose from. So how does one choose between them? What criteria to apply? It is impossible to please everyone, but for better or for worse, we are now moving towards a clear consensus on the scope and central content of psychology. UStexts appear to favour a high cartoon-to-text ratio; and multicoloured pages. The British seem happy with monochrome, clear tables, and occasional photographs. Yet the US texts are nearly always better value for money, because of the high print run they can afford.
With Simply Psychology the author aims to present the discipline in "a simple and easy-to-understand fashion". The book is a model of clarification, not simplification. Michael Eysenck is an experienced textbook writer and it shows. Further, he is a polymath, moving comfortably and with authority through quite different, and often antagonistic areas of psychology.
The book has 22 chapters divided into seven parts. Each chapter contains a bullet-point summary, and an explanation of key terms, as well as some structured essay and self-assessment questions. The chapters cover standard areas, though some would be surprised to find short chapters, on self-concept and on problem-solving and creativity. There is not much on behavioural genetics, abnormal/clinical psychology or work psychology. I read two chapters in depth, one where I had some expertise and another where my knowledge was pretty sketchy. I thought the former accurate and the latter enlightening.
Would I recommend this book for a first-year class? Possibly. But I think it is more appropriate for GCSE, A-level or sandwich course students. First-years usually need more depth and less breadth than is provided by this text. Yet the school-aged reader should enjoy, understand and benefit from reading this well-priced, clear and pleasingly produced textbook.
Adrian Furnham is professor of psychology, University College London.
Author - Michael Eysenck
ISBN - 0 86377 435 0
Publisher - Psychology Press
Price - £19.95
Pages - 432