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Baker, R. (1995). Jokes: Their Purpose and Meaning by Herbert Strean. Published by Jason Aronson, New Jersey, 1993; 219 pages; £27.50.. Brit. J. Psychother., 12(2):267-268.

(1995). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 12(2):267-268

Jokes: Their Purpose and Meaning by Herbert Strean. Published by Jason Aronson, New Jersey, 1993; 219 pages; £27.50.

Review by:
Ronald Baker

This is an interesting and useful book which delivers precisely what it proposes, the delineation of the purpose and meaning of jokes from a psychoanalytic perspective. It is written with clarity and style. It is both an easy and a serious read, lovingly composed by an author with a life-long preoccupation with jokes and humour. The text includes over 300 jokes and humorous anecdotes from a wide range of situations. Like all such collections, it contains some brilliant examples but suffers from the perennial problem that a joke that is read rarely carries the impact that it does when told.

Dr Strean departs strikingly from the position taken by many authors who attempt a scholarly work on this subject in that he shares intimate and personal details of his own life in the service of making some of the jokes more understandable. This is a courageous and spirited stance which effectively underlines the view that jokes are an important and revealing communication when made by a patient in psychotherapy or analysis.

Strean recognizes that the problem-ridden issues that inevitably reach the ears of a psychotherapist are one and the same as those expressed in the jokes exchanged between individuals in everyday communications. The strength of the book is thus contained in his commitment as a psychotherapist to concern himself with the hopes, conflicts, fantasies, pain and anxieties that patients bring to the treatment setting, and to demonstrate to the reader how jokes can reflect just these areas of human turmoil.

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