The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By

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9780195176933: The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By

Who are we as Americans? What is our deep identity? How do we make a good life? Renowned psychologist Dan P. McAdams suggests that the key to American identity lies in the stories we live by. And the most powerful life story in America today is the story of redemption. On a broad societal scale and in our own private lives, we want first and foremost to transform our suffering into a positive emotional state, to move from pain and peril to redemption. American identity is the redemptive self.

Based on 10 years of research on the life stories of especially caring and productive American adults, The Redemptive Self explores the psychological and cultural dynamics of the stories Americans tell to make sense of who they are. Among the most eloquent tellers of redemptive stories are those midlife adults who are especially committed to their careers, their families, and making a positive difference in the world. These highly "generative" men and women embrace the negative things that happen to them, for it is by transforming the bad into good that they are able to move forward in life and ultimately leave something positive behind. Unconsciously, they find inspiration and sustenance in the rich store of redemptive tales that American culture offers - from the autobiographies of Massachusetts Puritans, Benjamin Franklin, and escaped African-American slaves to the stories of upward mobility, recovery, fulfillment, and release that come to us today from Hollywood, 12-step programs, self-help experts, religious stories, political speeches, business gurus, and Oprah.

But can all American lives find redemption? Some people seem unable to make their lives into redemptive tales. Instead, their stories show contaminated plots and vicious cycles. Moreover, might there be a dark side to the redemptive stories Americans love? While these stories can sustain a productive and caring approach to life, they can also suggest a peculiarly American kind of arrogance and self-righteousness. For all their strengths, redemptive stories sometimes fail, and sometimes suggest important failings in the way Americans see themselves and the world. The Redemptive Self encourages us to examine our lives and our stories in full, to apprehend both the good and the bad in the stories we live by. By doing so, we may fashion better stories and better lives for the future.

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About the Author:


Chair and Professor, Department of Psychology, and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy,
Northwestern University

Review:

"The Redemptive Self" by Dan McAdams is part cutting-edge psychology and part American history. Drawing on his rich research examining people's life stories, McAdams explores how successful people look back and describe their lives. He finds that the successful or generative life story is one characterized by overcoming adversity, connections with others, and a belief in the future. This common story is, in many ways, the story of America itself. It is the story we like to tell about our past, our leaders, and ultimately ourselves. McAdams constructs a compelling story of his own by drawing on philosophy, history, neuroscience, religion, and psychology. As with his other books, this is a great read." --James W. Pennebaker, Professor of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

"In a book that beautifully encompasses imagination and civilization, eminent psychologist Dan McAdams has fashioned a lively and persuasive account of the manner in which we Americans account for our lives. McAdams shows that our personal identity is founded on the stories we tell about our own lives and on our shared membership in the American community, which itself leads to a broad cultural story about enjoying an early advantage in life, being aware of the suffering of others, and transforming our own and others' adversity into an ever more positive future. The Redemptive Self is an elegant masterpiece that dramatically integrates psychology into the realm of human affairs - a memorable book that readers will recommend to their friends." --Bertram J. Cohler, William Rainey Harper Professor, The University of Chicago

"McAdams has produced a book that shows what is distinctive about Americans' stories--and what is wonderful and also not so wonderful about that distinction. It is a book that can be read for pleasure and insight by psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and historians, but also by just about anyone who would like to know what it is that distinguishes Americans from others in the rest of the world. I recommend the book highly and with enthusiasm." --Robert J. Sternberg, IBM Professor of Psychology and Education, Department of Psychology, Yale University and Director, Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise (PACE Center), Yale University; Past-President, American Psychological Association

"Making extensive use of his clinical studies, McAdams examines the stories of highly generative Americans--people with strong commitments to the well being of their country, community and family...a delight, particularly his chapters on race and on nongenerative life stories. Sociologists and psychologists will undoubtedly find this book appealing, but McAdams makes complex topics accessible to the nonspecialist, so the book will likely interest anyone looking to learn more about American culture or McAdam's branch of psychology."--The Publisher's Weekly Review Annex

"[A] penetrating and fascinating psychological, sociocultural, and historical analysis of...America as it expresses itself in a comprehensive story that the author calls 'the redemptive self.'.... McAdams has authored a very ambitious book that succeeds in great measure."--PsycCRITIQUES

"...a readable, lively work by a skillful storyteller, and it has won the 2006 William James Award from the American Psychological Association for best general-interest book in psychology. The tale McAdams offers is as rich and nuanced as a fine novel...a tour de force, a model of how cultural criticism should be conducted."--Christian Century

"Dan P. McAdams' recent book, The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By, is a complex and inspiring examination of American life stories. The book considers some defining American traitsand shows how such beliefs help shape the personal narratives of many who have chosen to work toward the benefit of others..... [A] compelling, well-written work.... It invites personal reflection and a personal response. It speaks with its own narrative voice that is at once approachable and authoritative. [McAdams] has genuine admiration for these individuals and the life stories they tell, and he recounts their stories in a way that engenders this same admiration in the reader." --The Journal of Positive Psychology

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