Margaret Heffernan poses a stark question in the title of her recent entry on Huffington Post, Is Daniel Kahneman Really the World’s Greatest Living Psychologist? Kahneman, the Princeton University Nobel laureate who currently has a huge best-seller in Thinking, Fast and Slow, has been getting lots of media attention as his book has climbed the charts. What’s really valuable about Heffernan’s post is bringing together short descriptions of other eminent psychologists who have developed followings beyond their own field.
Before his hit book, Kahneman’s work was often referenced in business books, especially those that are oriented towards the mind and personal/professional development. But other psychologists have gotten that treatment as well, including another in Heffernan’s post, Stanford University’s Carol Dweck. Like Kahneman, she wrote a book for a non-specialist readership, in her case the terrific Mindset:The New Psychology of  Success. Her work was featured prominently in Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and she’s also been written about by Malcolm Gladwell. Besides Dweck, two other Stanford psychologists are in the post, both of whom have done ground-breaking work: Albert Bandura (including his fascinating theory of self-efficacy) and Philip Zimbardo, whose infamous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 was later described in his own book for a general audience, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.
As Heffernan notes, whether or not Kahneman is our greatest living psychologist is ultimately beside the point.  She writes that it is wonderful that we live in a time when so many of these people “are alive and productive, doing elegant and thoughtful work with immediate and lasting relevance to how we live our lives.” And it’s also true that as a society, the fact that the works of mind-oriented authors like Kahneman (not to mention Gladwell, Pink, Dan Ariely and so many others) reach the best-seller lists is surely a good sign.