Book Reviews

Book By: Peter Mather and Eileen Hulme
Review By: Jeffrey L McClellan
Management Department
Frostburg State University

As the title suggests, Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education is a valuable text for introducing scholars and practitioners to the application of appreciative inquiry and positive psychology within higher education. It is, nonetheless, little more than an introduction with only a few chapters delving deeper into the application of these ideas within specific contexts.

The monograph begins with an overview of the appreciative education model, which is based on the organizational development model known as appreciative inquiry (AI), which advocates for organizational change based on a focus on identifying the positive strengths of a system and amplifying these as opposed to looking at problems and weaknesses and striving to repair them. The appreciative education model adds two stages to the four stage model of AI. These two steps include disarm, and don’t settle.

The first chapter explores this model and its relationship to other innovative education practices. An exploration of the AI model and how it has been used to promote change in student affairs follows in chapter two. Chapter three examines positive leadership in higher education. Then, two chapters provide examinations of alternatives to the emphasis placed on the deficit-based notion of retention by suggesting models for thriving and cultivating curiosity in colleges and universities. The most concrete and practice oriented works follow, as chapter six  explores the application of AI in teaching and seven examines its relevance to service learning and social justice programs. Finally, chapter eight contains an annotated bibliography of related resources, which is very good.

As a text on AI and positive psychology in higher education, I found this book interesting. For those seeking to understand AI or positive psychology, however, this text provides a far too elementary and shallow introduction to the concepts. Those who wish to delve deeper into these ideas should consider the following sources (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008; Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003; D. L. Cooperrider, Jr., Yaeger, & Whitney, 2003; David L. Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2003; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 1997, 2003; Linley & Joseph, 2004; Orem, Binkert, & Clancy, 2007; Schiller, Holland, & Riley, 2002; Seligman, 2002, 2011; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

While the theoretical discussion is generally cursory, which in all fairness is to be expected, there are some valuable conceptual and practical insights to be gained from the latter chapters.  This reviewer found the insights on thriving in college particularly valuable. In addition, the chapters on the application of AI to instruction and service learning provided excellent practice oriented recommendations.

If you are looking for something to provide you with an introduction to the concepts of AI and positive psychology in higher education and desire to get an update on how these concepts are being applied, this is a great text. If you are looking for a more  in depth discussion of the theories and ideas that ground the practice or wish to delve more deeply into the specifics of how to apply these ideas, this is not likely the text to review. This is particularly true if you are looking for a discussion of how AI relates to academic advising, which this text does little more than mention.


Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing.

Cameron, K. S., Dutton, J. E., & Quinn, R. E. (2003). Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Cooperrider, D. L., Jr., P. F. S., Yaeger, T. F., & Whitney, D. (Eds.). (2003). Appreciative inquiry: An emerging direction for organization development. Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D. K., & Stavros, J. M. (2003). Appreciative inquiry handbook. Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeside.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow : the psychology of optimal experience (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life (1st ed.). New York: BasicBooks.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2003). Good business: Leadership, flow, and the making of meaning. New York: Viking Penguin.

Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (Eds.). (2004). Positive psychology in practice: John Wiley and Sons.

Orem, S., Binkert, J., & Clancy, A. L. (2007). Appreciative coaching: A positive process for change (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Schiller, M., Holland, B. M., & Riley, D. (Eds.). (2002). Appreciative leaders: In the eye of the beholder: Taos Institute.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Postive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.

Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education . (2013). Book by Peter Mather and Eileen Hulme (eds.). Review by Jeffrey L McClellan. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass. 104 pp. $29.00 (paperback). ISBN # 978-1-118-79776-1.
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