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Katz-Bearnot, S.P. (2016). The Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, by George E. Vaillant, Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012, 480 pp.. Psychodyn. Psych., 44(1):169-171.

(2016). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 44(1):169-171

The Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, by George E. Vaillant, Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012, 480 pp.

Review by:
Sherry P. Katz-Bearnot, M.D.

George Vaillant always has interesting things to say, and this book is no exception. It is likely the final book which will be published about the men of the Harvard Grant Study, as the surviving members are now nonagenarians and Vaillant himself, a long-time (1972-2004) director of the study is in his 80s. Nonetheless, there are many things to be learned from this extraordinary longitudinal study that are fascinating to contemplate as we consider the broader questions of health and mental health, coping and adaptation, and explore the topic of “successful aging” for ourselves and our “greying” population.

First, a paragraph or two about the now 78-year-old Harvard Grant Study itself, for those unfamiliar with it, without which even this review will be unintelligible. The book contains a more extensive history, with fascinating insider anecdotes and asides as well as charts of important data collection milestones and a discussion of the scientific basis for specific data collection. In 1937 Arlen Bock, M.D., the new chief of the Student Health Services at Harvard, convinced his friend and patient William T. Grant, owner of the chain of department stores bearing his name, to fund a study originally called the Harvard Grant Study of Social Adjustments. Grant's motivation was to find out what made for a good store manager. Bock had a more ambitious intellectual agenda: to answer questions about the determinants of health and illness, the role of nature versus nurture, the connections between personality and health, and the possibility of predictive factors for mental or physical illness.

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