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Triumphs of Experience - The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  842 ratings  ·  93 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 23rd 2012 by Harvard University Press
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Suzanne Stroh
Feb 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Andrew Meyer
Dec 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Margaret Sankey
Jan 01, 2013 rated it liked it
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
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of those books I am so glad I read. Such a fascinating longitudinal study, the book is written by a former head of this study which analyzed the lives of several hundred Harvard men over the entire course of their lives. I appreciated his insight and analysis of the data. One of the major findings is that what leads to the most fulfillment in life is the quality of a person's relationships. I feel a renewed desire to be kinder and more loving with my family and friends and to prioritize my r ...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
Catherine Read
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
George Vaillant explains his lifetime work on the Harvard Grant Study that follows many men at Harvard that provides a very interesting longitudinal analysis about a number of factors that lead to a long life, divorce, emotional agility, alcoholism, and more.

The key to a longer, happier life is having loved ones around you, whether that's a spouse, family member, or friend.

A key problem with divorce is alcoholism, which tends to be a genetic factor that can be very difficult to overcome.

Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As a 28 year-old man, I acutely feel the impending pressures and complexities of pursuing career consolidation, intimacy, health, generativity (making babies and stuff) amongst others. Triumphs of Experience offers the perfect antidote to the dreaded quarter-/one-third-life crises as it narrates and studies the realities that, "adult development continues long after adolescence, that character is not set in plaster, and that people do change." Vailant pulls data from 70+ years of studying Harvar ...more
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
There's a fascinating story in here somewhere—two fascinating stories, really, one about the operation of the decades-long study, following Harvard students over the rest of their lives, 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, and preen, and preen, about how great longitudinal studies are (which they can be! But frequently not for the reasons mooted here) and about how everything goes to prove that what real ...more
Niniane Wang
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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!
Nov 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book about a longitudinal study of Harvard undergraduates from 1938 up to the present day. It's interesting to learn how their childhoods, personalities, and habits influence the trajectory of their lives. Highly recommended!
Pamela Bayer
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
The only lifetime longitudinal study completed on health and happiness in the world....although some insights are outdated, it's still very informative. The conclusion of the study is simply put in the words of John Lennon, "Love is all you need".
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Analysis of one of the longest longitudinal studies ever conducted. It tracks over 70 decades of life of a group of Harvard students. A road map looked through the rear mirror, reflecting the possibilities men can achieve (or not achieve) over a lifetime.
Stephanie Thoma
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Triumphs of Experience" details the 'cream of the crop,' from college until death, with in-depth interviews of their lifestyle habits and relationships to serve as the gold standard of what to do to live the longest, healthiest and happiest life, and also a few common ways to f-it all up.

I was taken aback by the level of thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and practicality of Vaillant's work. Also thankful that despite pushback, and altering the angle to secure funding (tobacco, alcohol, etc.) to kee
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
A detailed and statically heavy look at 268 men over 75 years of life beginning in 1939. Heavy emphasis on relationships and lifestyle. Here is a summary of this 370-page book covering the study:

-Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives.
-Alcoholism strongly correlates with neurosis and depression.
-Alcoholism with associated cigarette smoking was the single greatest contributor to their early morbidity and death.
-Financial success depends on the warmth
Oct 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I was initially stoked about this book:
1) very relevant research
2) combined with interesting case studies
3) and some "backstage" stories about running a uniquely long longitudinal study.

Unfortunately as the book went on my enthusiasm waned.

1) Somehow the solid results are underwhelming (alcohol is really really bad...)
2) Case studies got more boring and confusing. Vaillant keeps referring to persons across chapters. However, since the studies are not tremendously memorable (unlike him you spend
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Another book read as a favor for a friend--this turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. Somehow Vaillant makes potentially dry, statistical analyses riveting. I couldn't help but apply some of the lessons learned from this prospective study going on 80 years to my own life. I appreciated the author's clinical approach, and yet his own distinct voice, often describing his reactions and attachments to these men whom he knew and studied for decades. I liked the chapter about coping ...more
Jonathan Mckay
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This feels like the 'capital in the 21st century' for individuals. Vaillant (and all the study leaders before and after him) have followed a small group of people over more than 70 years to search for long term predictions about thriving into old age. The conclusions of the book are not at all surprising, the keys to a happy and meaningful life into old age are:

1. Loving relationships
2. Developing mature coping habits
3. Having a 'warm' childhood

OK - no news there. More interesting to me was th
Anson Cassel Mills
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
The psychiatrist George Vaillant (b. 1934) has spent his professional career with the Harvard Grant Study, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever attempted. At publication about 30% of the 268 participants were still alive and in their early 90s. Still, it is unlikely that Vaillant himself will be able to present an absolute postmortem because at publication he was in his late 70s and playfully admitted to a host of bad lifestyle choices.

As an older male, it was encouraging to
Farraas Muhdiar
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology, favorites
Finally found another great book to be raved about. This book is about the participants of The Harvard Grant Study, a longitudinal study about human development that was conducted in 75 years.

The book talks about the importance of warm childhood for a man's future, and its strong correlation with income and life satisfaction when the participant got old. Loving childhood is a better predictor of success throughout life than family SES!

I also love the book because it tells me about the developmen
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was both academic and approachable. I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses of the scientific process (proving and disproving hypotheses) and also appreciated the generous and easy to understand conclusions. Each chapter includes a case study or two to make a specific point. These are very helpful in understanding the lessons learned. How amazing that even what seems like such an elite group, selected even for the prospect of future success could end up embodying so much of the foibles of hu ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Triumphs of Experience summarizes much of the work of the Grant longitudinal study of Harvard male graduates from 1938 to 1942This well written account can be understood, with much effort, by the lay reader, but it is a slog. Lots of writing justifying the study's methodology and administration, all too the good. Case studies illustrating some of the findings make the more esoteric sections of the book accessible to the general reader. But the book is still a slog. I seldom do not finish a book ...more
Arman Fesharaki
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and comprehensive book!

I throughly enjoyed reading the Triumphs of Experience. It is the embodiment of decades of hard research and detailed account on successful aging, and what are the potential predictors of a happy fulfilled life. I recommend this book to all the curious souls out three.
Judit Gueta
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a mother of three little boys I have to say that this book took off a good deal of pressure from me. The bad things fade. - the good things matter and last. (No spoiler, the author starts with this.)
The chapter on alcoholism is very important and interesting. It added to my understanding of other addictions as well (like sugar...).
Pamela Saenger
May 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
No doubt an important and influential study, and I do not doubt its long-reaching impact. As a recreational reader, however, I found this volume a bit dry. A lot on here on the methodology and structure of the analysis of the study. Probably helps to come to this book with an existing knowledge base in both scientific research methods and psychology.
Sep 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
The many great takeaways from the Grant Study are found in this book, but they are also summarized nicely on the Wikipdia page for the Grant Study. The book had to be made to provide a full account of the results, but the average reader might find it too wordy and watered-down.
Robertson Kunz
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good childhood is a strong predictive factor but a bad childhood is not. The most important contributor to joy and success in adult life is intimate relationships. Involuntary adaptive mature mechanisms of defense are the second greatest contributor.
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A lot of compelling data and some surprises. Worth the time to read it.
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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

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“As we’ve gone along, I’ve pointed out that a warm childhood relationship with his mother—not maternal education—was significantly related to a man’s verbal test scores, to high salary, to class rank at Harvard, and to military rank at the end of World War II. At the men’s twenty-fifth reunion, it looked, to my surprise, as though the quality of a man’s relationship with his mother had little effect on overall midlife adjustment. However, forty-five years later, to my surprise again, the data suggested that there was a significant positive correlation between the quality of one’s maternal relationship and the absence of cognitive decline. At age ninety, 33 percent of the men with poor maternal relationships, and only 13 percent of men with warm relationships, suffered from dementia.” 4 likes
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