B.F. Skinner: Benign Anarchist

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Allyn and Bacon, 1996 - Psychology - 202 pages
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B. F. Skinner was a colorful, complex, and enigmatic figure. He is presented here in all his complexity, in a candid portrait reflecting Wiener's knowledge of the man and his field and enriched by dozens of personal interviews, a large body of unpublished correspondence, and the cooperation of Skinner during the last years of his life. His first popular book was a publishing failure, with copies still remaining four years after the 800-copy first printing; at Harvard he was one of the few students with the audacity to resist attempts by his doctoral thesis advisor to influence the direction of his work; his most original ideas and inventions made him the subject of caustic professional and personal commentary throughout his life; he was both a somewhat aloof individualist and a public figure who wanted his ideas to influence society at large; and he was probably the best-known research psychologist of the 20th century. The book begins with Skinner's boyhood in rural Pennsylvania, where his early talent for tinkering and inventing foreshadowed his later practice of creating much of the equipment used in his research. His college years were marked by pranks and practical jokes, one of which nearly endangered his graduation. Following college he spent what he called his "Dark Year", during which he attempted to become a 'literary writer' by writing a novel, a dream he never fully relinquished. But once Skinner hit his stride in graduate school, he emerged as one of the most influential - and controversial - figures in American psychology. Often misrepresented and misunderstood, Skinner nevertheless left an indelible legacy of research and ideas related to the shaping of human behaviorthrough positive reinforcement. His utopian novel Walden Two has sold 3,000,000 copies, and his second popular book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, appeared on the New York Times best seller list for 20 weeks. Readers will find here an illuminating account of Skinner's life and work as well as reflections of his many facets: researcher, thinker, gifted teacher, writer, iconoclast, and inventor. Besides the ubiquitous "Skinner box" (a term he never used), he invented "the baby tender", the teaching machine, and a precision bombsight using live pigeons. Also included in this book are insights about Skinner's relationships with family, friends, and noted colleagues, including his role as a father and his life-long friendship with Fred Keller. The book is enhanced by extensive references and a complete bibliography of Skinner's writings.

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Roots and Childhood
College and the Dark Year
Becoming a Psychologist

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About the author (1996)

DANIEL N. WIENER is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Minnesota.

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