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The Definitive Guide

book cover

This is the one! For years I have wished that there was one single Enneagram book that basically said it all. Wait! What's the Enneagram? In a nutshell, the Enneagram is a theory of personality types, far different from the Myers-Briggs typology in that it has 9 basic types, not 16, and concentrates not on one's "preferences" but on what is often hidden to the person. Some writers prefer to speak of Enneagram "styles," "motivations," "compulsions," and "stances," or even "sin potentials" and "holy ideas," instead of "types."

I think of them as soul issues, since the Enneagram has an inherent spiritual quality to it. In addition, there are not one, but two different ways of recognizing "subtypes," so, depending on the writer, there may be 18 or 27 subtypes recognized. Little wonder that the Enneagram is not used in the workplace nearly as much as Myers-Briggs—it not only gets too quickly to places that could become somewhat uncomfortable—but recognizing Enneagram type is more of an art than a science.

Nonetheless, the Enneagram is an exceptionally powerful tool for recognizing the often-unrecognized parts of one's motivations, and I, a "Bohemian" 4w5, have benefited from it tremendously.

If you read only one Enneagram book, make it this one. In The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Riso and Hudson have created what is not only the most readable resource on the subject, but also the most complete as well.  Starting from a purely introductory level, the authors take the reader from a basic theoretical overview of personality types, to an in-depth description of all types, concentrating on practical, existential guidance. Riso and Hudson create names for the wings and keywords for the subtypes which are wonderfully accurate, and more informative than the names which many other authors have tried to give for the basic types. (see table).

Because the goal of this book is practical help, each type is given a summary of the typical childhood issues which remain core issues in the personality, a wake-up call to pay attention to, warning signs when they may be becoming too trapped within their compulsions, and numerous suggestions on practices to help develop inner potential, as well as a description of their essence when self-actualizing.

In the introductory chapter, the authors describe the Enneagram as "sacred psychology," a term I find far more evocative than "transpersonal psychology," and more accurate about the Enneagram's potential. Riso and Hudson end the book with a very basic introduction to spiritual practice and meditation (which will undoubtedly be helpful to some), and an excellent description of the layers of personality and their ultimate connection to the Omnipresent One.

What's missing? Not very much. I do like the description of Head, Heart and Gut imbalances that Beesing et .al., wrote in their seminal book, The Enneagram: A Journey of Self-Discovery, and I feel that no one has treated that better. However, the loss is not so great that I could be dissuaded from saying that this is definitely the only Enneagram book most people will ever need.

Years ago, I first encountered the Enneagram through Riso's book Personality Types, and it was one of a few books I've read in my life which I can say truly changed my life. I can't promise the same for you, but this book is superior even to that one, so the odds aren't bad! Go ahead, read it, learn about yourself, and be open to change!

Annotated List of Other Enneagram Books

* * *Parables and the Enneagram , © 1996 by Clarence Thomson, Crossroads, New York, 144 pp.
This is an insightful book which concentrates on using the teachings of Jesus from the gospels to illuminate and alleviate the compulsions of the different Enneagram drives. However it is not an introductory text. Definitely some prior knowledge of the Enneagram is assumed.
* * * *The Enneagram Movie and Video Guide, © 1994 by Thomas Condon, The Changeworks, Portland, 231 pp.
A wonderful and original way to learn the E-gram. His explanations are lucid, entertaining and convincing. Dozens of movies, and hundreds of characters are described, along with insights of the dynamics of some frequent conflicts between the types.
* * * *Personality Types, 2nd edition, ©1996 by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, Houghton Mifflin & CO., Boston. 500+ pp.
An excellent overview of the Enneagram, groundbreaking in the accuracy of the descriptions of the types, in describing various states of growth or compulsiveness "levels of development," wing subtypes, and childhood influences. Nonetheless, this work, even in its expanded edition, is outclassed by The Wisdom of the Enneagram.
* * *The Enneagram: a Journey of Self-Discovery © 1984 by Maria Beesing, O.P., Robert Nogosek, C.S.C., and Patrick O'Leary, S.J., Dimension Books, Denville, NJ., 223 pp.
This was the one which started it all. And so far, no other book so clearly explains how the nine drives arise out of imbalances in the head, heart, and gut centers of energy, which I believe is the essential theoretical underpinning of E-theory. Also, until The Wisdom of the Enneagram was published, this was by far the most spiritual of the them all. Unfortunately, it was truly a horribly-written book, which accounts for its lack of popularity.
* *The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life, ©1988, Helen Palmer, Harper Books, San Francisco.
Many folks considered this the Enneagram book par excellence in the '80s. It has been influential, but I found it lifeless and confusing. Type descriptions seem to blend into each other, and the tone is depressing throughout. However, Palmer's take on subtypes has become widely accepted, a parallel to Riso's theory of wing subtypes.

The Best Enneagram Sites:

The Enneagram Institute
The home site of the authors, perhaps the world's greatest teachers of the Enneagram.
Enneagram Central
Excellent site, bursting with enneainfo, including an online self-study course.
The Enneagram and the MBTI
An online journal exploring the similarities and differences between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram