Sidequest: How to Analyze People on Sight

We’ll return to Dr. Dewees and his “deranged” women’s diseases next time, but I absolutely must share this latest read with all of you.

Some weeks ago, whilst perusing Project Gutenberg for new books to read on my Kindle, I discovered a book entitled How to Analyze People on Sight, by Elsie and Ralph Benedict. I knew it had to be old, as it was on PG, and I thought it must be fairly interesting, as it had been in the top 100 list of theirs (and further, in the top ten) for the past month. (It still is as of the date of this post). So, I downloaded it, but didn’t get a chance to actually begin it until the other day, and finished it a few minutes prior to my sitting down at the computer.

Well, I was right, it is interesting, but not quite in the way I was thinking. The book was published in 1921, by the above authors, who styled themselves “Human Analysts.” Like others who would come after them, they purported the idea that people fall into particular “types.” However, their types deal with the supposed inter-relation between physical attributes and personality traits. It occasionally borders on the offensive, as you’ll see in a moment.

All people, according to the Benedicts, fall into one of these five types: Alimentive, Thoracic, Muscular, Osseous, and Cerebral. There can be combinations of two to three types, but there is one that is always dominant. They wrote this book after careful “scientific” study and proposed that, if you studied it carefully and observed people for a while, you would be able to tell at a glance what “type” any person is. People packed auditoriums for this sort of pseudo-science, if the newspapers of the early 1920s are to be believed.

So, what are these types? The Alimentive are fat people. They have baby faces and dimpled hands even into adulthood. They walk slowly, and may even waddle if they are very fat (which, given the references they make throughout the book, appears to be the 250-pound mark. The morbidly obese, cannot-get-around-without-electrical-scooters type of person doesn’t appear to be numerous at this time). They like comfortable chairs, and creamy, buttery foods. Most of them are Jews, the book tells us as fact. Chubby is the life of the party. Et. cetera. In each chapter, it enumerates the types of entertainments the particular personality type enjoys, such as theatre, music, and reading material.

The Thoracic type has larger lungs than average. This shows that they have no idea what they are talking about, and should have immediately discredited them. However, technology had not marched far enough to tell them yet. These people are usually florid, what we would call “ruddy” today, and like thrills and walk quickly. They have long noses with a high bridge and a kite-shaped face. They like the stage and are usually performers.

The Muscular type has a strong jaw, and is good at manual labor. They can be prone to violence and many foreigners are of this type.

The Osseous people are bony. They can be stingy. They keep their feelings and opinions to themselves. They are pioneer types.

Cerebrals are your brains of the operation. Their heads are generally too big for their bodies. They dream too much and get nothing productive done.

And so on. The book goes into more extraneous details about how to deal with each particular type in business and friendships, as well as bonus chapters on which types are complimentary in marriage and correct vocations for one’s particular type.

Most of the book is so misguided, but is interesting for the time period. The descriptions are so broad at times that they could apply to nearly everyone, kind of like horoscopes. On a pessimistic note, it is from this sort of “scientific” theory that we have people even today automatically assuming such stereotypes as “fat people are always jolly and funny.” What is also a bit frightening to me is the reviews on Amazon for the version of this book which is still in print. It appears some people think these are “great insights” and should be taken seriously!


1 Comment

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One response to “Sidequest: How to Analyze People on Sight

  1. Matthew Green

    I wish I could reach back in time and slap the authors.

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