Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Inkblots

The Inkblots by Damion Searls
Crown/Archetype: 2/21/17
uncorrected proof: 405 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804136549

The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls is a very highly recommended fascinating examination of the short life of Rorschach and the phenomenal spread and influence of the iconic test he developed. The first part of The Inkblots is an account of Rorschach's life, while the second is the history of the Rorschach Test and psychological evaluation.

In 1917 Rorschach was working at an asylum in Switzerland when he developed his inkblot test. Rorschach, the son of an artist, had artistic talent himself which aided him in carefully designing all of the final ten inkblots. His goal was to find a tool to use what we see and how we describe it as a way to find insight into the human mind. "Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see." The shapes he developed are bilaterally symmetrical. The shapes suggest both movement and form. This is a test where the psychological insight it reveals is based on the interpretation of what you see as it strives to measure imagination and personality. It is not a test with correct or incorrect answers. Today the ten shapes can readily be seen with a simple online search.

Rorschach tragically died in 1922 at age 37, but his test took on a life of its own, spreading across the world and especially took hold in America. It was used as a means of psychological evaluation in a wide variety of different situations. In the second half of the book Searls covers the history of psychology and the problems and changes associated with scoring the test. It also entered the realm of popular culture and at one time inkblots imitating the test could even be found in advertising.

I especially enjoyed this biography/history of psychology and thought the writing was exceptional. It is easy to understand while providing the background information and details you need to follow the information presented. It is well-researched, thoughtful, and intriguing. While I was totally engrossed in the whole book, the first part detailing Rorschach's life was especially detailed and interesting. Searls biographical account covers Rorschach's early life and his progressive beliefs as he grew up. Rorschach is presented as a very likeable man. Searls found a vast amount of material on Rorschach from a biographer who died before he wrote his book. Once we reach the second part of the book, which focuses on the spread of the test, the feuds, controversy, and revisions begin.

The Inkblots has all the special elements I love to see in nonfiction. The book includes many photos. There is an appendix focusing on his wife, Olga, and an excerpt of a tribute to her husband she wrote years later. There is a note by Searls in his acknowledgements explaining how he found original source material. Finally, there are extensive source notes for each chapter, which is always appreciated.

IF you are anything like me, you will want to see the original ten inkblots. They are easily found online (Wikipedia) and there is even an online inkblot test (which I didn't take therefore can't vouch for its validity.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crown/Archetype via Library Thing.

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