The Four Temperaments: A Rediscovery of the Ancient Way of Understanding Health and Character by Randy Rolfe (Marlowe & Company)

The Pitch The ancient belief that all people are dominated by one of four humors -- sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic or melancholic -- is the key to better understanding ourselves and others and improving ourselves psychologically and physically.

The Pitcher Rolfe is a lawyer, lecturer, family counselor and self-help author; she reports having studied deeply the history of the humors for 25 years. But she is not, we must point out, a scientist.

The Basics Each humor is purportedly associated with one of four bodily liquids and basic earth elements (as understood by the ancients) and a corresponding personality type: People identified as sanguine (blood; air) are said to have a ruddy, optimisitic energy. Phlegmatics (phlegm, mucus or maybe the fluids of the lymphatic system; water) are thought powerful and irresistible. Cholerics (yellow bile; fire) are energetic and charismatic. Melancholics (black bile, or maybe stool (!); earth) are creative but cool. We all have aspects of all four humors in us, and the trick is knowing your mixture and keeping them in balance. A handy questionnaire is included. If this sounds like a mixture of early science, earth worship, astrology and self-help, you're catching on.

The Bad Amidst the psychobabble are moments of such monumental triteness you feel like the author has to be kidding: The chapter on relationships offers the suggestion that opposites attract -- except when they don't. The system also encourages making judgments about people based largely on appearance, one of those ideas best left in previous centuries.

The Good Underneath the mumbo jumbo runs a layer of solid, if entirely pedestrian, advice: High-fat, high-sodium processed food is bad for people of all humors; getting enough rest is essential to maintaining your health. And, yes, many of us could indeed benefit from more careful consideration of ourselves in relation to others.

-- Gregory Mott

Why would you want to classify your personality in terms of stool, bile, mucus or blood? For humor's sake, of course.