I first had the idea of writing this book when I was in my senior year as an undergraduate at Williams College. I had just read Robert Heilbroner's book, The Worldly Philosophers (1972), for a class on the history of economic thought. In his book, Heilbroner brings the field of economics to life by showing how the theories of the major economists emerged from the particular social contexts in which they lived. As a psychology major, I thought that the field of psychology could use a book like this. But whereas economic theory makes claims about social systems, and so an analysis of the theorists' social contexts is in order, psychological theory makes claims about individual people, and so here an analysis of the theorists' personal lives is called for.
This idea was elaborated in the following years as I pursued further studies in psychology. The most significant influence was my graduate work with Irving Alexander. Irving himself explored relationships between the works and the lives of psychological theorists in a class he taught. The class was not taught to my cohort, but I heard others talk of it when he returned to it the following year. Most importantly, in another class and in my thesis work with him, I learned from Irving a method for extracting themes from narrative material, whether that material was autobiographical writing explicitly about the author's life story, or professional writing ostensibly irrelevant to the author's private life. I was also able to see how Irving employed this method in an analysis of the theorist Carl Jung, when he read aloud to a number of his graduate students a talk he was to give at an upcoming American Psychological Association meeting. He would later publish this paper and others on Sigmund Freud and Harry Stack Sullivan, along with a paper on his method, in his book Personology (1990). Anyone who has read that book will immediately see that my debt to Irving is great. I had the idea for writing this book before I met him, but he gave me the means to do it.