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Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives Paperback – September 2, 1997

3.6 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This groundbreaking book takes on the influence of birth order in personalities and offers some surprising conclusions. Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has undertaken the first comprehensive study of birth order in determining personality and social outlook. He produces overwhelming evidence that, because of the evolutionary hierarchy in families, first-born children are more likely to be conformists while the later-borns tend to be more creative and more likely to reject the status quo. He documents just how different siblings are from each another--a person tends to have more in common with any randomly chosen person of their own age than with a sibling--and explains why sibling differences occur. The book offers new insights into the determining factors of who we are and who our children will be, and it is unlike any research yet published. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The thesis advanced by M.I.T. research scholar Sulloway (Freud: Biologist of the Mind) in this provocative, sure-to-be-controversial study is that firstborn children identify more strongly with power and authority and are more conforming, conventional and defensive, whereas younger siblings are more adventurous, rebellious and inclined to question the status quo. He bases this conclusion on birth-order research and on his theory that siblings jockey for niches within the family in Darwinian fashion: while firstborns defend their special status, later-borns are more open to experience because accessibility helps them maximize attention and love from their parents. Providing a detailed statistical analysis of thousands of individuals' responses to 28 scientific innovations?Darwinism, the Copernican revolution, Einstein's relativity, etc.?Sulloway concludes that most have been initiated and championed by later-borns, whereas firstborns tend to reject new ideas. He overstates his case when he interprets the French Revolution's Reign of Terror as fundamentally a battle between firstborn conservatives and later-born liberals, and his analysis of the Protestant Reformation in similar terms is debatable. And although Darwin, Voltaire, Ralph Nader and abolitionist Harriet Tubman were later-born siblings, Einstein, Freud, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Lavoisier and many other radical innovators were firstborns, casting doubt on birth-order influence. Photos. First serial to the New Yorker.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679758763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679758761
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on October 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
The role of siblings within the family and beyond has received attention for many years. Sulloway pulls together a mass of research, including his own to find patterns deriving from family structure. Using a strong evolutionary stance, he shows how "sibling rivalry" for resources extends into later life. This sweeping study keeps the reader's attention with clear, straightforward prose and a refreshingly direct approach. It will keep other students of human behaviour working for many years.
The general pattern, examined within larger social, political, religious and scientific arenas, shows how later-borns become the flexible, innovative thinkers. While, necessarily, only a few become actual creators of new ideas, they more readily accept fresh concepts. Later-borns learn to adapt in the family environment - it's a survival trait. First-borns, and Sulloway notes the difference between chronological and "functional" first-borns, cling to a conservative stance. Even if the parents are radical thinkers, their first-borns will adhere to their way of thinking. Later-borns in such a circumstance are more likely to depart from the family's stance, adhering to more conservative social or political ideas. The disparity in attitudes is the norm within the family, not necessarily across family boundaries.
Throughout the book, Sulloway frequently turns to Darwin as a case study in strengthening his thesis. It's a wise choice, since Darwin is emblematic of what Sulloway asserts. middle-class, middle sibling, middle-aged at the peak of his achievements, Darwin exemplifies most of Sulloway's criteria for distinguishing birth order as a personality driver.
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Format: Paperback
A reader writes: "However, Mr. Sulloway's book is tightly reasoned and supported by a great deal of research."

You might want to look at the discussion of Sulloway's work in Judith Harris' recent _No Two Alike_, pp 92-112. According to that account, Sulloway's work was never published in a peer reviewed journal, the book in which it was published failed to provide the sort of information needed for other people to check the truth of his results, and Sulloway repeatedly refused requests for such data--for instance, the names of the Protestant and Catholic martyrs whose birth order rankings he offers as evidence, or cites to the studies whose results he claims to summarize.

When someone wrote a critical article pointing out evidence that his factual assertions about the data were false, he delayed the publication for several years by the threat of lawsuits.

Judging by her previous book, Harris is a careful writer, so absent some evidence to the contrary my current conclusion is that Sulloway is a fraud.
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Format: Hardcover
This book by Frank Sulloway places birth order, and the "Darwinian" struggle for parental attention, at the center of personality formation. Sulloway has taken 26 years to write his book - Born to Rebel, and it is worth it. He bases his theories on meticulous research into the biographies of over 3000 scientists, from the days of Copernicus to the present. His theories began with, and are founded on, the observation he made back in 1972 that there are dramatic differences between the groups of scientists who promote the periodic revolutions in science, and the groups who oppose and support orthodox science. His observation is that these differences are related to differences in family position, and Sulloway demonstrates a degree of statistical significance in these relationships that is almost unheard of in the social sciences. The book is remarkable on a number of levels. First of all, the theoretical observations have a power that may put Sulloway up on a level with Freud and Piaget in unveiling the mechanisms of human development. Secondly, the topic of the book is a fascinating read: first of all, on the personal level, and Sulloway is not so much of an academic that he shuns this. There are sideline remarks throughout the book that encourage the reader to apply the insights to him- or herself. Thirdly, the book is very interesting on the level of biography, and fourthly in its insights into the history of science. Also, it is beautifully written: it survives with flying colors the test that I apply - reading it aloud.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I was prepared to dismiss this book and its premise because of prior experience with birth order theories. However, Mr. Sulloway's book is tightly reasoned and supported by a great deal of research. In the end, Sulloway avoids the reductionist trap by showing how birth order interacts with a variety of other environmental factors to produce personality. Sulloway has put the issue of our biological nature squarely on the table by showing the relationship of human history to natural selection and the life forces that drive all living things. This book won't do much for our egos, but may well explain a great deal of human behavior. My only concern is the mischief that the inevitable misuse of his ideas is likely to produce
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