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Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  185 ratings  ·  34 reviews
At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.

Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional
Hardcover, 457 pages
Published October 30th 2012 by Belknap Press
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Margaret Sankey
Vaillant took the helm of the longest-running longitudinal study in American social science when he was a young researcher and the study had already been going for 30 years. Beginning in 1937, the study, funded by a retail magnate to identify key traits in management prospects (with later interest from the Army and tobacco companies), selected 268 Harvard sophomores to track, assuming that they were ideal social and academic paragons, easy to track for the study and likely to give the best of Am ...more
Phew this was a bit of a slog - really really interesting but not a fast read. Much of what George Vaillant had to say was profound and useful both personally and professionally. At times I needed to reread whole paragraphs to understand his intent as they started off saying one thing but turned into another! That said each of these paragraphs contained pearls worth taking the time to decipher. Of particular interest were the chapters on Alcoholism , Resilience and Adult maturation.

The Grant Stu
Vaillant makes use of an extensive set of longitudinal data on Harvard men to determine what leads to enduring fulfillment and joy in their lives. Living through a warm childhood, abstaining from alcoholism and smoking, coping effectively with failure, and permitting love and attachment score high on his list of factors that contribute to beneficial outcomes. This book also depicts several useful misconceptions that the author effectively debunks and several surprising outcomes: for instance, me ...more
Catherine Read
This is such an important work. One of the only longitudinal studies of its kind, this follows a cohort of Harvard men from the ages of 19 to over 90 in a study that spans over 75 years. It is enlightening in so many ways and the style of the author (and study researcher) George Vaillant is so engaging to read. He is about 15 years younger than the study subjects and as they grew and matured, so did he. He came to his own realizations about what adult development means in very concrete terms, an ...more
Loving this book. Fascinating, fascinating ...

I was drawn to this book in particular because of the learnings on male development as outlined by Vaillant. But, aside from that, there seems to be a societal attitude that men are privileged and hence require research on their physical well-being but not so much on their long-term emotional well-being. However, increasingly, from many directions, the conclusion that physical well-being, the ability to thrive into old age physically cannot be divorc
Niniane Wang
Interesting insights based on a longitudinal study of 200+ men for 70 years! Alcoholism is hereditary and the biggest reason for marriages failing. A warm childhood is predictive of success, but a bad childhood can be overcome. Love relationships are what makes us truly happy. People grow and change throughout their lives -- even a life that was devoid until age 50 can still flower into an amazing old-age. All these backed up with scientific regressions plus anecdotal case studies!
This book opened my mind to a field of research that I had not appreciated before. I find humans an immensely fascinating animal and this book gives rise to much introspection.

The author treats both the research study itself as well as the findings from their study in this book. I can see how those who are only interested in the findings would perceive it as a bit dry, but I myself really appreciated how the challenges of longevity studies were explained. Anyone who themselves have carried out
Andrew Meyer
This is a fantastic book, but it really has a target audience. If you are a successful, college, male graduate who has choices about what you do and how you live, this book as interesting insight. What decisions that people made at different times in their life ended up being most important.

If you have that opportunity financially, educationally and personally, read this book. If you're not in that position, this book's probably not so interesting.
Sam Torode
Such a fascinating book!

"Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days." The surviving men are now in their 90s.

Among the many interesting findings:

* Alcohol abuse was the #1 factor in bad marriages (though rarely self-reported; it took a lot of digging for the researchers to figure this out).

* The conservative/Republican men, on average, stopped having sex at age 65, while the progressive
There's a fascinating story in here somewhere -- two, really, one about the operation of the decades-long study that is the focus of the book and another about the findings of that study. But the author would in this case much rather preen about how great longitudinal studies are (which they are! But frequently not for the reasons mooted here) and about how everything goes to prove that what really matters is love and interpersonal connections. That conclusion, while plausible, would have been m ...more
Suzanne Stroh
Here we meet WASP men at work and play, and a little bit in love. Proving the paramount importance of love in a cold climate.

This book reports on the groundbreaking Harvard Grant study of educated American white men's lives and health, begun in 1937, that is still active today. The study tries to define optimal male health not just by gathering physical data from its 200-plus subjects, many of whom are still alive into their nineties, but also by tracking achievements (attainments) that can be m
Joy H.
Added 4/2/13.
Found while surfing the Web. Published in 2012.

"At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.

Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of o
Triumphs of Experience, like its predecessor Aging Well, is based on the author's lengthy experience administering and analyzing the results of the Grant Study of some 268 Harvard students/graduates. The study, commenced in 1938 and continues today even as the number of survivors decreases. Dr. Vaillant knows his territory, and uses his knowledge to draw certain conclusions about aging and to refute other commonly-held beliefs on the same subject. There are numerous tables and correlations prov ...more
Ivan Ramirez
Fantastic book describing the longest study performed in history. More than 75 years of questionaries, health information, family information, etc.
The book describes the study itself, the criteria taken in consideration for the results and (here's my favorite part) several cases of men and how they went through life from childhood/adolescence to adulthood backed with a lot of data and psychological information and how they managed to change/mature over the years.
Really interesting book/study, but sometimes hard to read because of the academic language and references I'm not familiar with. There were case studies strewn throughout that were fascinating. Some of my favorite gleanings:

1. In regard to the military's question about how to breed good officiers: "We don't breed good officers; we don't even build them on the playing fields of Eton; we raise them in loving homes." (p. 43)

2. With regard to positive mental health and adaptive coping; "As in the in
The Harvard Grant Study is a longitudinal study of adult development that started in 1938. In my opinion, the most interesting finding of the study was that alcoholism is the cause, not the result of unhappy marriages. I never held the opposite position, but I was happy to find it evidenced in such a distinguished study.

I do not read many psychological studies so I found this book to be rather dry. I did, however, really enjoy the study. I appreciate the detail, but would much rather have just
Though not a light read, I found it well worth it. It has a lot of information that would be useful for parents (and grandparents) in raising children and for those who are searching for meaning and connection in their own lives. The book has insightful, positive messages about life and what is really important.
Dan McGrath
Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study
By George Vaillant

Just finished this very extensive and enjoyable summary of the Harvard Grant (Longitudinal) Study of 200 graduates throughout their lives. George Vaillant is a wonderful writer: I loved the actual case studies/interviews with participants illustrating various life histories and outcomes. Of course I found out a lot about myself in reading these. The conclusions are interesting, illuminating and encouraging in that we do
Diane Henry
I love the topic, but am having a hard time with the writing. The author inserts himself throughout, contrasting the study participants to himself. I am, frankly, less interested in him and find those parts tiresome. He also frequently references subjects and topics that will be discussed in later chapters, which is frustrating. I have to wade through the writing and structure in order to get to this beautiful study. fascination with this topic continued, as did my frustration with the wr
Sarah Stirton
I just couldn't get through this entire book. Too scholarly for me. WAY too many statistics. I know there's good stuff in there, I skimmed.
A good read overall, especially the single case studies. For a psychiatrist the author writes amazingly smooth and entertaining.
Abhay Kanchan
Extremely insightful though some of Vaillant's theories seem a little far-fetched. Though the only way to disprove or prove them would be to conduct more studies like this one.
What does it take to be happy if you were a Harvard man in the 1920s?

Love, apparently.

The case studies are fascination, and Vaillant introduces terminology in an illuminating way. (What's a defense mechanism? Oh, ok, now I know) But on the other hand, he gives little countenance to alternative theories and tends to repeat himself: All you need is love. Alcoholism is bad. Lonely childhoods are terrible.

Overall, a quick and worthwhile read. At the very least, it provides motivation to ponder tha
Keith Raffel
A remarkable book that follows the lives of 268 Harvard undergraduates for 75 years. What in childhood, heredity, and personality leads to living a life of fulfillment or disappointment is surprising and informative.
Prashant Sachdeva
A fascinating read describing a very unique study. The description of lives of the various study men are very vivid and engaging.
I learned a lot about adult maturation and sound research practices. They key takeaways related to maturation are that it is never too late to change and that the keys to happiness are finding meaning (confirming the position of Victor Frankl) and supportive relationships. The key takeaway related to research is that we have to continue to gather data and question our assumptions because even when something seems clear we may not yet have all the answers.
Interesting insight into adult development. Some parts were excessively repetitive (okay, we understand why you are doing the research), yet overall, it painted a comprehensive picture of how individuals can continue to change over the lifespan. I enjoy the sections about the participants and wished there was more of this in the book. Also, there was a good summary of defense mechanisms which I felt were more accurate than Freud's definitions.
A valuable and encouraging read with regards to aging happily into our "golden" years.
Fr. Ted
It turns out that I was not as interested in the topic of a longevity study as I thought I might be. Well researched and I think well written, I found fewer insights into being human than I thought I might. I thought the chapter on alcoholism and his references to the effects of alcoholism on the lives of the men in the study were the most interesting and worth reading.
Aaron Terrazas
Fascinating retrospective on a unique study that tracked about 300 men from college sophomores (around age 20) over the next seven decades (roughly age 90 or death). Wealth of insight of what leads to an enjoyable, successful life (or the opposite).
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George Eman Vaillant, M.D., born 1934, is an American psychiatrist and Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research for the Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Vaillant has spent his research career charting adult development and the recovery process of schizophrenia, heroin addiction, alcoholism, and personality disorder. Through 2003, he spent 30 years as Dire
More about George E. Vaillant...
Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Study of Adult Development Adaptation to Life Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith The Wisdom of the Ego The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited

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“Happiness is love. Full stop.” 1 likes
“In 1980, Stanford University internist and epidemiologist James Fries recognized that modern medicine was not extending the human lifespan, and yet survival curves were changing. More people were living vitally until eighty-five or ninety, and then dying quickly, like the wonderful one-hoss shay in Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poem, which ran perfectly for a hundred years and then fell apart all at once.2 Fries called this phenomenon “compression of morbidity.”3 In 1900, because most deaths were premature, the human survival “curve” was a diagonal line; now it is more of a rectangle—especially if you have no risk factors (Figure 7.1). In 2040 there will be ten times as many eighty-five-year-olds as there were in 1990. This is not because the normal human lifespan is any longer than it was, but because fewer people will die before eighty. After eighty the lifespan will reflect little increase. Medical advances like antibiotics, new cancer treatments, and kidney transplants all serve to decrease premature death. But they do not alter the fact that the bodies of most of us, like the one-hoss shay, have not evolved to live past one hundred.” 0 likes
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