Book Review: The Five Elements

Author: Dondi Dahlin
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Book Publication: 2016

Sometimes it’s impossible to figure people out. What makes them tick? Why are they so fussy all the time? Or carefree? Perhaps if we could figure it out, crack the code so to speak, we’d all get along much better, or a least just get along.

In her book The Five Elements, Dondi Dahlin tries to open the window into personality traits a bit wider for us to peek inside and better understand ourselves, others, and in turn, enhance our relationships. To do so, she uses – in a greatly simplified way – the Chinese Five Elements theory, a philosophy used to describe interactions and relationships between things. The five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal, and water – are believed to be the basis of everything in the universe and how interactions occur. More simply put, Dahlin’s mother, Donna Eden, explains in the book’s foreword, “It’s an elegant framework for sympathetically appreciating human character, temperament, cycles, and illnesses.”

That’s a pretty tall expectation from such a small book, but not to worry. Dahlin’s explanation of the five elements makes for an enjoyable read. The chapters, written in a conversational style, are devoted to describing each one of the five elements – “the Wood personality, gets things done; Water people, search for meaning; Fire people, enjoy the ride; Earth people, bring people together; and Metals, yearn for refinement.” Dahlin illustrates each of the elements with many examples of her own ‘wood’ personality, as well as anecdotes from the celebrities she has met in her life as an actor and belly dancer, to help us to understand why a ‘fire’ person would behave one way in a situation as opposed to how a ‘metal’ person may react.

Located at the end of each chapter is a ‘personality assessment quiz,’ which makes it fun for the reader to determine if they, or someone they know, are a particular element. After deciding I am mainly a wood with shades of fire, I took the book up to a weekend at the cottage and spent a lovely evening with friends and family trying to figure out everyone’s ‘element.’ The predominant theory behind The Five Elements is that once we figure out what a person is – if they are a wood / fire, a metal / water / earth, or some other combination – we will finally understand what makes them tick. Whether this simplified explanation into the complicated human psyche will actually help with people’s relationships is impossible to say. However, what I can say with certainty is that soon after picking up the book, most readers will be thinking about their own personality and behaviour, and wondering if they are finally in their element.



Marlene Eisner is a valued Vitality magazine contributor.

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