I have a Ph.D. in Social & Clinical Psychology from UCLA, and have published in JPSP, J. Pers, and other APA-refereed research journals. Early on I was a member of the Psychology Faculties at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Mount Holyoke College. Later I worked as a family systems therapist in the States and Ireland for several years. Inbetween times I wrote and presented a radio program on WMUA⁄fm in Amherst (‘Dr Bill’s Myths, Lies, Facts, and Songs’). In more recent years, in addition to a course on ‘Social Systems, Communications, and Psychology’, I’ve been teaching the likes of ‘Creative Writing’ and ‘Dramatic Authoring for the Web’ at Dublin City University. And yes, I once tried moving to Nashville, but I’d say that was well before I met Mairéad or Utah Phillips.

I spent about 15 years sorting the initial version of this book, entitled: The Arrival of the Fittest: How The Great Become Great (2011). Greatness (2020) is an expanded version of Arrival with more case studies and research citations (not to mention a hopefully more “Google friendly” title) added. Arrival received very strong endorsements from a number of internationally prominent academics. Here’s a starter, or as you baseball fans would have it, a closer. Well actually – if you know anything about the research literature on genius & greatness – the closer:

“Arrival is a truly fascinating book. It’s not only highly informative, but also equally inspiring!”

Dean Keith Simonton, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor
Department of Psychology
University of California, Davis

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Here are some other endorsements from academics whose research is directly relevant to the arguments developed in Arrival / Greatness:

“Bill Dorris is interested in the match-up between talented individuals and the social worlds that want them and in which they flourish, and in what happens to the creative process when individual and environment are in synch.  These phenomena are important and little studied.

In The Arrival of the Fittest Bill has considered this question in great depth through a wide variety of case studies, ranging from Elvis to Einstein, and with reference to a vast range of academic research.

Arrival is ingenious, wide in scope, and represents years and years of work.  It also comes to some startling and provocative conclusions regarding the question of ‘how the great become great’.  This book will more than repay the attention of open-minded readers who are interested in the development of talent under conditions which eventually result in stardom and/or greatness. “

Ravenna Helson, Ph.D., Director, Mills Longitudinal Study of Women’s Development, Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley

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In The Arrival of the Fittest: How the Great Become Great Bill Dorris shows that, at the extremes, creative contributions depend on a delicate interplay of forces. Choosing cases as diverse as Woody Guthrie, Wolfgang Mozart, and Marilyn Monroe, Dorris tells a compelling story of talent, good fortune, determination, self-promotion and other qualities that appear to be essential for greatness. The Arrival of the Fittest makes a significant contribution to what is known about the most admired characters of this or any era. The book is an important and welcome contribution to the creativity literature.”

David Henry Feldman, Ph.D., Professor of Developmental Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts

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“I think you have done a very admirable job. You should be proud… One general observation is that you have covered an immense literature range with remarkable accuracy!… Let me know when your book is published, which it will be. “

Robert Albert, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, Pitzer College, Claremont, California

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“There was a time, not that long ago, when psychologists thought long and hard about ideas before they were published. Fritz Heider spent 20 years thinking about and scribbling notes about how people explain the world around them before pulling these observations together into a book that pretty much defined the issues for the next 30 years of experimental social psychology research in attribution theory. Bill Dorris’ book, The Arrival of The Fittest, comes out of the same tradition as Heider. Dorris is a thinker who has for many years now been puzzling about what makes for extraordinary creativity and culturally recognized greatness, and Arrival is the fruition of this thinking.

Arrival is a very imaginative and engaging book that defies classification in the ordinary schemes we employ in academia. First, it is full of case history material drawn from years of Bill’s scholarly reviews of a mélange of ‘greats’ ranging from Bill Russell to Einstein, with extended consideration of the lives of Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Guthrie, and Marilyn Monroe. Obsessive-compulsives will wonder how Bill assembled this list of greats. All I can say is that these are the cultural icons that captured Bill’s imagination (and the imaginations of millions of people around the world in diverse walks in life). Greatness, in the context employed in this book, is whatever reasonably large cultural groups conspire to construe as greatness.

Interwoven with the study of these greats is a provocative theoretical account of how and why these individuals arrived at their destiny. Bill’s theory here is very creative and integrative, bringing together microscopic analyses of individual life histories with extensive psychological research from many specialist areas, all of which is considered in relation to larger institutional, societal, and cultural factors. Then out of this, Bill abstracts a relatively simple, yet extremely compelling, theoretical analysis of how it is that the ‘greats’, whether they be Mozarts or Marilyns, become ‘greats’.

Several aspects of this theory are quite startling and I expect will be very upsetting to many readers, whether professional psychologists or simply fans of various ‘greats’, in that they hugely diminish the credit which these individuals receive for their achievements. Not surprisingly, Bill’s theory has many ramifications in terms of minimizing the heroic and psychological theories of creativity. However, his theory has the advantage of helping to explain the incredibly complex and chaotic sorting that happens over the course of each generation as millions of talented individuals eventually come to be represented by a tiny handful of icons.

In my opinion Arrival is a ‘must read’ for anyone – academic, student, or general reader – who is seriously interested in understanding how the ‘great’ become ‘great’.”

Edward J. O’Brien, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Psychology Department, Marywood University, Scranton, Pennsylvania

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“Kurt Lewin, through his development of field theory, is credited with stimulating an amazing array of experiments in interpersonal and social behavior, involving huge numbers of subjects and elaborate experimental designs and statistical analyses. However, some of his most creative writing focused on the intensive analyses of the life space of individuals at a given moment in time. To understand and predict the behavior of a person at a given time, we must consider the total field of forces operating on that person—these in turn would be a function of the personal characteristics, needs, and motives of that person in dynamic relationship to his/her environment, including available behaviors with their positive and negative valences, barriers and restraints.

Essentially, this is the approach which Bill Dorris utilizes and extends in his book, The Arrival of the Fittest: How the Great Become Great. His focus is on that moment when the person (Mozart, Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Woody Guthrie, Darwin, Hitchcock…) arrives at his/her greatest moment of success. What then were the personal characteristics of that person as these interacted with his/her environment in the moment preceding? And what then was were the features of that person at a significant moment preceding that? And before that? Dorris then continues to trace the sequence of life spaces of each of these characters to their early life histories. The result is a series of biographical analyses which are made all the richer and more insightful through the field theory approach…
Dorris’ extension of the Lewinian tradition provides a fascinating and stimulating approach to understanding our greatest achievements… – an approach which is accessible to academic and lay reader alike.”

Bertram H. Raven, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles

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The Arrival of the Fittest: How the Great Become Great should interest all developmental psychologists, as it provides a new twist on the old nature-nurture issue. Of course, all will recognize the underlying commonplace response to the layperson’s question, “it is nature or nurture?” – namely, that behavior is always an individual-environment interaction. One can recognize shadows of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, and Lev Vygotsky’s social interaction’s influence on cognitive development. However, one of the most intriguing aspects of Dorris’ analysis is the idea that, critical to becoming great is “access to the ‘right kind of problems’ in their environment.” But of course there is much more to Dorris’ analysis.

Dorris sketches a wide range of ‘greats’, from very diverse fields, who lived in vastly different settings and times, while providing a running analysis, pointing out the critical characteristics that “gave them access to the right kinds of problems in their environment.” Dorris expands his examination online with an analysis of three in-depth case studies from “individuals whose greatest productions could in no way have been anticipated from their origins and early years of development.” Written with a wry sense of humor, this is a serious and valuable piece of scholarly work. Dorris has read widely and has given us a creative new insight into greatness, that integrates family systems theory, chaos theory, personality and social psychology, creativity and development.”

Gwen B. Fischer, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, Hiram College, Hiram, Ohio