Write about a book that has been particularly important for me? A difficult task! In those formative youthful years when one is attempting to shape one’s identity, in the profession as well as in society, many books and articles exert an influence – now in one direction, then in another. I could have mentioned Johan Galtung’s Forsvar uten militærvesen [Defence without armed forces] (1959) which contributed to my conversion to pacifism, as well as to my becoming a peace researcher.
Or Erich Fromm’s The Sane Society (1955), which almost turned me into a Utopian socialist. Or Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), which made me aware that atrocities could be committed by bureaucrats.
Or my first sociology textbook, Erik Allardt and Yrjö Littunen’s Sociologi (1962), which used an example from Paul Lazarsfeld to introduce five ‘self-evident truths’ on the first page, only to go on to reveal that all the assertions were empirically incorrect.
Or of course Aschehougs konversasjonsleksikon, the encyclopedia that I grew up with, or the expanded version, Store norske leksikon, that was my children’s childhood companion.
Or I could simply have capitulated and said (which is true) that I am a slow reader and not particularly patient, so that I was influenced significantly more by articles than by books.
However, I have chosen Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings by Bernard Berelson & Gary A Steiner (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964). This book attempted to summarize everything that – at the time of its writing 50 years ago – was considered reasonably certain knowledge in the field the authors call behavioral science, with a primary focus on psychology and sociology. They catalogue this knowledge in the form of 1,045 findings, grouped into 14 chapters.
So, this is not a book for reading from cover to cover, but rather a resource for looking things up and use as an aid within one’s areas of particular interest. Its similarity to a dictionary may help to explain why I fell for it. Another explanation is that my copy of this book was a gift from my mentor, Johan Galtung, when I started working at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) as a research assistant in 1964, the same year as Human Behavior was published. At about the same time, Galtung wrote a lyrical review in Dagbladet, where he described the book as an example of ‘a book that concludes one epoch and introduces the next’ (1).