Thomas Laqueur, professor of history at UC-Berkeley and author of Making Sex (Harvard, 1990).
The Book of Memory by Mary Carruthers (Cambridge, 1990). Carruthers's book examines the medieval scholars who labored to memorize lengthy texts. Laquer notes that those who practiced this art "may seem like complete bores who just crammed theology, but they did it by tagging parts of the text with emotionally significant markers--feelings, passions, or funny things. They understood that the words and pictures you really remember are the ones that have some oomph, and that reading is meant to be an emotionally charged activity. Their view of memorization was active and incorporative: What you read becomes part of you, attached to the pleasant feeling of reading it." Today, however, memory is usually thought of as merely a "logical function." In other words, it's become a clinical business, separated from idiosyncrasy and feeling.
Jerome Kagan, professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of Galen's Prophecy (Basic Books, 1994). The Nature of Emotion: Fundamental Questions edited by Paul Ekman and Richard Davidson (Oxford, 1994). "To a large degree," says Kagan, "history determines what emotion you're going to study. If this book had been written in ancient Greece, it would have been about awe; in the sixteenth century, piety; and in 1910, when Freudian theory was dominant, the major debates would all have been about sexuality. In this book, I don't think sexuality is mentioned more than twice. Power, anger, fear, sadness, joy, surprise, and disgust--these are the emotions that concern the authors." In tackling those emotions, Kagan adds, the authors ask "the big questions: What is an emotion? Are some emotions basic and others secondary? Do they serve an adaptive evolutionary function? And what's the difference between moods and temperaments?"
Ronald de Sousa, professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and author of The Rationality of Emotion (MIT, 1987).
Humiliation by William Miller (Cornell, 1993). "This book is a fascinating look at the role that the darker emotions play in social life. The title essay reveals Miller's astonishing streak of paranoia, a lawyer's lifelong obsessive fear of being humiliated. And Miller also discusses the phenomenon that he refers to as 'upward contempt'--contempt for people of higher social standing. This displacement of classic contempt, which Miller claims is no longer acceptable, is to him one of the twentieth century's most important developments."
Martha C. Nussbaum, professor of philosophy, classics, and comparative literature at Brown and author of The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton, 1994).
Nussbaum believes that all inquiries into the emotions should start with Seneca and proceed only with caution. Still, she recommends Richard Lazarus's Emotion and Adaptation (Oxford, 1991), "which very clearly states the case against behaviorism. By defining emotions solely in terms of observable responses to stimuli, behavioralism failed to account for the very mentality of emotion, for the subjective experience of it." Carrying Lazarus's project even further is his student Andrew Ortony, who has written The Cognitive Structure of Emotions (Cambridge, 1988) with Gerald Clore and Allan Collins. This ambitious effort, Nussbaum says, "gives a very precise taxonomy of emotions, classifying them into major groups and discussing how they're defined in relation to each other."
Adam Phillips, psychoanalyst, author of On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored (Harvard, 1993).
Passions of the Mind by Harold Boris (NYU Press, 1995). "Boris, an idiosyncratic psychoanalyst from Boston, is concerned with the ways in which people process their emotional life: How much of it are they capable of thinking about and through? In this book, he explores how we unconsciously sabotage certain feelings in ourselves. Let's say, for example, my dependence on my mother is painful. Rather than acknowledge that fact, I might prefer to say I don't have any feelings at all. So Boris's book is also about the ways we have of not feeling things."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.