ALEXANDER L. GEORGE AND JULIETTE L. GEORGE, Presidential Personality and Performance (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1998), 287 pp., $75.00 hardcover (ISBN 0-8133-2590-0), $25.00 paper (ISBN 0-8133-2591-9).
In Presidential Personality and Performance, Alexander and Juliette George describe the impact of personality on the behavior of political leaders. In this one volume, they bring together work from their historic psychobiography on Woodrow Wilson, respond to the critics of Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House,(1) discuss attempts to assess presidential character, and explain the relevance of presidential style to decision making. It is simultaneously a handbook on how to write a good psychobiography, a manual on conducting qualitative research, and a book that addresses timeless debates in the study of the presidency. This evaluation of psychobiographies and studies of personality deserves a second look by both the skeptics and advocates of the approach.
In chapter 1, "The Psychoanalyst and the Biographer," the authors argue that the psychoanalytic perspective allows the biographer to empathize with the subject to form insightful hypotheses while allowing enough detachment to evaluate the hypotheses generated by the study. The goal is to understand the man and why he behaved as he did but to still evaluate him. Psychoanalysis, the authors argue, gave them a method of research and an analytic perspective that explained the behavior of President Wilson.
Chapter 2, "Some Uses of Dynamic Psychology in Political Biography: Case Materials from Woodrow Wilson," provides a blueprint on how to conduct a study like this. In the beginning, the chapter tackles the crucial question about the degree to which the situation, the culture, or an individual's personality determines political behavior. Alexander George argues that by looking at the history of behavior (from historical documents and secondary accounts), it is possible to assess the role of situational and personality factors. This makes writing a psychobiography a complex process in which the scholar constantly reevaluates his or her interpretation of a subject's behavior.
Chapters 3 and 4 discuss some theoretical and methodological issues raised by psychobiographic work and respond to the criticisms of Woodrown Wilson and Colonel House. In chapter 3, the authors link Wilson's cycle of self-defeating and compulsively stubborn behavior (at Princeton University and as president of the United States) to...