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Psychology professor analyses the mind of Sherlock Holmes

stratford library

Newly released e-book probes the mind of the Victorian sleuth

Did Sherlock Holmes manifest a rare psychiatric disorder? How intelligent was he, and how can we assess his IQ? Did he anticipate the revolutionary theories of Sigmund Freud?

Did Holmes and his assistant Dr Watson, really live permanently together? Were they secretly gay? How good a forensic psychologist was Holmes? And why did Watson suffer from acute depression? 

These are just some of the questions addressed in a new e-book, The Intelligence of Sherlock Holmes, in which Holmes and Watson are put under the psychological microscope by John Radford, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of East London (UEL).

Thanks to modern re-imaginings involving actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr, the legend of Holmes and his faithful companion, Watson, is now more popular than ever. A century after the last of their 60 adventures appeared in print, tourists pay homage to Holmes’s statue outside Baker Street Station, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum regularly has a queue of visitors.

In his book, Professor Radford considers Holmes and Watson through the lens of modern scientific psychology.  

Their personalities and abilities are analysed by psychometric methods, Holmes’ remarkable knowledge and reasoning powers are examined, and the psychology of their extraordinary hold on the public imagination, unmatched by any other fictional characters, is discussed and explained.   

Professor Radford is a distinguished psychologist. During the 1970s and 80s, he led the development of UEL’s School of Psychology into one of the largest university psychology departments in the UK. 

He was the initiator of psychology as a GCE A-level subject and oversaw its huge growth in popularity. As well as being a Chartered Psychologist, and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, he is also a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.

His interest in Holmes and Watson began with reading the stories as a boy. He first wrote about Holmes in a chapter of a book he co-edited in 1978, in which he drew a comparison between Holmes and Freud. His fascination with the Victorian detective grew from there.

Professor Radford said, “I was giving a lecture at a psychology seminar and, by way of introduction, I shared a few anecdotes about the legendary detective. For months afterwards people would come up to me saying how much they enjoyed my lecture on Sherlock Holmes.  I thought that since so many people were saying they enjoyed my paper on Holmes, perhaps I ought to write one!”

A paper on the subject was published in The Psychologist, the magazine of the British Psychology Society, in the 1980s.  This later evolved into the book, which was first published in 1999 and was also translated into Japanese. This second edition now appears as an e-book and is available to buy for the Kindle on Amazon.

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