(Roughly) Daily

“About astrology and palmistry: they are good because they make people vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm”*…


In a 1938 book, How to Know People by Their Hands, palmist Josef Ranald included these three handprints of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, analyzing each. His analyses offer an unexpected window into popular perspectives on these leaders’ personalities, before the outbreak of World War II.

“I myself began my study of hands in a spirit of skepticism,” Ranald, who served as an officer in the Austrian army during World War I, admits in the introduction to the book. An encounter with a palmist while Ranald was in the service irritated him rather than impressing him, and while he got out of a tight spot when a prisoner of war by pretending to read the palms of his captors, he reported that he still saw the practice as a scam. (Such admissions of doubt may have been well-designed to gain credibility with his reading audience.)

As a newspaper correspondent, Ranald had contact with many people, whose palms he read on a lark. He wrote that he came to see the practice as scientific: he gathered ten thousand such handprints, using sensitized paper (some sheets of which he included in the back of this book, so that the reader could follow his lead). “With a larger and larger sampling to go by, I felt that I could draw some conclusions from my findings,” he wrote. “On the basis of probabilities derived from statistical averages, I could associate certain markings in the hand with certain characteristics in men and women.”

The spatulate hand of FDR, Ranald wrote, belonged to a person of “advanced and liberal views.” The president was “social-minded,” “of sanguinary temperament,” not at all reclusive or introverted. (Read Ranald’s full analysis of FDR here.)

Read Mussolini’s and Hitler’s palms at Rebecca Onion’s “Handprints of Hitler, Mussolini, and FDR, Analyzed by a Palm Reader in 1938.”  (From the Tumblr of the Public Domain Review, reposted from Tumblr user nemfrog. The Internet Archive’s copy of the book was scanned from the collection of the Prelinger Library.)

* Kurt Vonnegut


As we trace out life lines, we might spare a thought for Heinz Edgar Lehmann; he died on this date in 1999.  A psychiatrist who recalled that at the beginning of his practice, in Canada in the 1930s, psychiatric hospitals were “Snake Pits,” Dr. Lehmann led the transformation of North American asylums into the therapeutic environments they are today. But Lehmann’s greatest legacy was a single pill – Largactil (chlorpromazine hydrochloride, best known on the U.S. as Thorazine), the first anti-psychotic drug used in North America.  In successfully treating patients with this drug, Lehmann introduced the world to the idea that biology plays a role in mental illness.  Chlorpromazine remains on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, a list of the most important medication needed in a basic health system.



Written by LW

April 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

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