Person of Interest: Keith Ablow

The good doctor is about to alienate all of Massachusetts.

Photograph by Deborah Feingold

Photograph by Deborah Feingold

Dr. Keith Ablow’s 14th book — yes, 14th — is a curious one. In its way, it’s more shocking than anything the Newburyport psychiatrist has written, quite a feat given that Ablow once published a book calling convicted murderer Scott Peterson a sociopath…without having met the man. What’s jarring about his latest volume, out January 4, isn’t its content but its co-author: Glenn Beck. For a man like Ablow, who built a practice, and then a writing career, and then a daytime television persona by appealing to and giving advice for as broad an audience as possible, working with Beck seems to undermine 21 years of we’re-all-the-same homilies.

Beck, after all, is a polarizing personality. Surely Ablow knows this. Surely half of his audience — those living in his native Massachusetts, anyway — will look at this new book, The 7: Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life, look at the bylines, look at that gooey cover of Beck holding a child with Ablow in the background admiring the scene, and think, What of that tough yet still amiable bald man I once knew from Oprah? Has he, too, moved to the screaming, clown-footed fringe of the Republican party?

And the answer is — we don’t know. But only because this book is not about politics. The 7 is a self-help guide disguised as a memoir, with all the unflinchingly candid and completely noncliché revelations that accompany real emotional duress and not a few bestsellers. (Beck’s mother committed suicide when he was 13, and it would take decades — and a failed marriage, bouts of depression, and AA — for Beck to forgive himself for her death.) “I’ve never had a clearer sense that I’m working with someone who’s genuine,” Ablow says, completely genuine himself. Still, the psychiatrist is asking a lot of his reading public: to look beyond their own political beliefs, and then beneath Beck’s doughy, pink-fleshed exterior, into the scarred (but healing) regions of Beck’s psyche. The book’s theme — one of the seven, at any rate — is to understand that being courageous means sometimes acknowledging how scary a situation is, and then proceeding anyway.

The doctor has taken his own diagnosis.