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Friday, July 05, 2013

Book Review: "A Catalog Of The Ways People Grow" by Severin Peterson

Peterson, Severin. A Catalog Of The Ways People Grow.  New York: Ballentine, 1971.
(I read old books because there are there)

The most likeable feature of this 367 page encyclopedia is the rare and painfully honest assessment Peterson gives to the reader of his own collection. He suggests, “that you regard this book as being a manure spreader, that all the words in this book are, at best, manure, and that this book is a vehicle for spreading manure . . . . As you read this book, you can, if you like, be spreading manure. If you leave it on the ground, it will smell a little and then dry up.” So how can one be not just a little curious?

Peterson goes on to describe the benefits of manure to a garden, but this is truly less a catalog of the fruits of a productive garden so the title does not fit the analogy. The book is an alphabetical arrangement of worldview; that is, ways man tries to understand the self and the world in which he lives. Certainly one would expect to find growth as man comes to a level of understanding but if there is any growth (continuing with the failed analogy) it is wild and unchecked, un-pruned and without cultivation.

One is tempted to reprint the table of contents (from Aikido to Zen), but Peterson’s Directory may be most helpful for our purposes. Here we find the content arranged topically, indexed and supplemented with resources for additional study. The general topics are: Physical Functioning and Sensing; Feeling and Relationship to Others; Action and Behavior; Motivation and Willing; Suggestion and Altered States; Imagination and Symbols; Spiritual Concerns; and Environment (as a way of developing the whole person).

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in his book, “The Nature and Destiny of Man” that man is his own problem because he does not know how to think of himself. Peterson’s approach attempts to show ways mankind assumes that mankind must be an expert at being mankind (hence “growth”) but clearly this is not the case. The encyclopedia makes no judgment concerning the ideas expressed; however, weaknesses in various positions make themselves evident.


This book is good for a survey of worldview in short articles. Perhaps not intended for cover-to-cover reading, but one will find it to be informative for those more (how shall we say), private moments behind the closed door.

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