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Living with Our GenesReview - Living with Our Genes
Why They Matter More Than You Think
by Dean H. Hamer and Peter Copeland
Anchor Books, 1998
Review by CP
Feb 17th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 7)

The Content: Lots of useful information here. Chapters on personality, novelty seeking, anxiety, anger, addiction, sexual drive and preference, intelligence, body weight, aging, and cloning. Each chapter has plenty of easy-to-digest facts. For each trait or tendency, the authors explain the balance of genetic predisposition versus environmental factors that influence humans in their behavior and emotions. At the end of the book there are 21 pages of bibliography for those who want to find out more concerning the scholarly debate and research. The authors describe scientific experiments in psychology, brain chemistry, epidemiology, sociology, and biology. They at least occasionally touch on controversial ideas and take a position. For example, they call the arguments of The Bell Curve "fundamentally unsound," and they provide a brief justification for their verdict.

The Style: Formulaic. Each chapter starts off with a story of a person, meant to capture our attention. For example, the very first sentence of the book: "The invitation to her twenty-fifth high school reunion came out of the blue, and Janice was surprised anyone had been able to keep up with all her address changes over the years." I found myself skipping the blather and trying to get to the information. Maybe this approach works well with many readers -- in fact, I am sure it does, because I know that my students in my class on genetic ethics found Living with Our Genes an easily approachable and helpful book. For my part, I found it annoying and even patronizing. It makes me feel the authors must think their readers are not capable of difficult reading, and that they have probably skimmed over the subtleties of the debates.

So Hamer and Copeland's book is a good starting point for those interested in the role of genes in shaping our lives, but it's unsatisfying if you really want to examine the issues in detail.
 

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