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Born That Way: Genes, Behavior, Personality Paperback – August 26, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0415924948 ISBN-10: 0415924944 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

William Wright takes on the question of nature versus nurture, examining the roles heredity and environment play in determining not only what we look like, but why some of us like coffee rather than tea or prefer cats to dogs. Wright's position is clearly in favor of genetic control of our predispositions, based on compelling evidence from various research such as the famous University of Minnesota studies of identical twins raised separately and from newer work such as that outlined in Dean Hamer's Living with Our Genes. Wright states emphatically, "The nature-nurture war is over." But he carefully avoids much of the outcry that met biologist E.O. Wilson's introduction of the principles of sociobiology by stating up front that genes aren't everything: "None of the data turned up by behavioral geneticists shows genes to be tyrannical commands, but rather nudges, sometimes strong, but more often weak."

Wright makes a strong case for genetic determinism, while carefully distancing himself from the socio-political ramifications of saying people are "born that way." He does this by showing how decades of research pointing toward genes as determiners of body and mind has been misinterpreted by groups or individuals intent on achieving their nonscientific goals. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In spite of fascinating material and an engaging writing style, Wright (Sins of the Father) is largely unsuccessful in his attempt to portray the current state of the nature-vs.-nurture debate as it pertains to the underlying causes of human behavior. On the positive side, Wright does a fine job of explaining the controversy between those who believe that human behavior is significantly controlled by genetic influences and those opting for the primacy of environmental factors. Similarly, his descriptions of the results, both anecdotal and scientific, of the Minnesota Twin Study of identical twins raised apart and brought back together later in life are compelling, clearly demonstrating the importance of heredity. What detracts greatly from these successes is Wright's relentless attack on those who disagree with his pro-genes position (e.g., "Richard Lewontin, one of the Not in Your Genes authors, who has repeatedly proved he needs no collaborators in his campaign of distortion"). Wright's calling his opponents "gene police," "radical environmentalists" and "genophobes" does nothing to elevate the level of the debate. And while Wright interviews and fully develops the personalities of many of the scientists on the "nature" end of the continuum, he presents caricatures of those on the "nurture" side. Nonetheless, many important public policy questions are touched on in this otherwise useful book.
Copyright 1998 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: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (August 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415924944
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415924948
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,555,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Wright's book points out the profound issues confronting behavioral geneticists during this century.
Bill Whiteside
If your thirst for behavioral genetics isn't sated after reading this, I recommend Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene.
C. Moseley
And, Wright makes it into a compelling story so easy to read, and to understand, as to make its perusal a delight.
Eugene A Jewett

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Joan Mazza on December 28, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
William Wright tackles the link between genes and behavior in plain language. He makes it clear that as human beings with consciousness and choice, genes do not dictate behavior, but contribute to it. He separates the politics of the fear regarding genetic research from what we know and how we know it and how we use new information. He also discusses how researchers might avoid some methodological hazards or the accusation of fudged data (document everything!).
He says, "Most scientists take the position that knowledge is neutral, value free; the use to which it is put might be good or bad, beneficial or hurtful to society in general. First, learn as much as we can, then let society decide how new information will be used. The opponents of behavioral genetics have consistently feared such a climate of unfettered inquiry." (p. 215)
Much of this book focuses on twin studies, but Wright also describes some of the research on hormone levels and their effects. He attempts to tease out the variables of nature and nurture on specific behaviors such as intelligence, depression, and a tendency toward violence.
My reading of this book sparked a frenzy of my reading other books on twins, homosexuality, and other research on the links between genes, environment, and behavior. I highly recommend this book.
~~Joan Mazza, author of Dream Back Your Life; Dreaming Your Real Self; Things That Tick Me Off; and Exploring Your Sexual Self.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Eugene A Jewett on August 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
William Wright does a terrific job of making a complex subject readable and readily understandable. The crux of the story revolves around Thomas Bouchard's, now famous, twin studies in Minnesota. As Wright tells the story of the remarkable similarities found between identical twins separated at birth and reunited after 20-30-40 years, one becomes stunned by the heritable clarity of traits, temperaments, abilities, intelligence, and metabolic rates and so on and so on. It's just breathtaking; so much so that's it's worth reading a second time just to make sure you didn't miss anything.

As the book progresses, Wright names the players on either side of the nature-nurture debate and what becomes clear from the outset is the astonishingly blinkered mindset of the environmentalists. Theirs is hardly a search for truth, but one of obstructing progress in order to further a socialist political agenda. Wright recounts the debates and the duels through the press, and the periodicals of the scientific community, until you're flustered with rage at the audacity of these obstructionists. Medical progress means less to these left wing scientists than the protection of their political agenda. Just amazing! It's reminiscent of the Catholic Church versus Galileo in the early 16th century. And, Wright makes it into a compelling story so easy to read, and to understand, as to make its perusal a delight.

I couldn't help seeing the same socialist obstructionist patterns in "Born That Way" as I've seen in "Constant Battles" by Leblanc re anthropology, in "Taboo" by John Entine re racial differences in athletic achievement, in Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" about free market economics vs.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Jensen on September 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
I found this book worthwhile as a review of twin studies and recent work in behavioural genetics.

Unfortunately it gives the impression that Wright is a professional writer who does not understand his material all that well. For example, he treats manic depression aka bipolar disorder as if it is exactly the same thing as depression. The conditions are very different, and with quite different degrees of heritability.

It's probably a good idea to read this book with caution, always bearing in mind that Wright's interpretation of the studies he describes may not be reliable. Even so, it's a useful reference to the source studies.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Peter Thompson on October 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
Unlike other scientific books related to psychology and behavioral genetics, Mr. Wright's book does not bog down in "techno-jargon". He does a superb job at simplifying and codifying years of legitimate scienctific research regarding the genetic nudges of behavior. Having spent years myself as a psychology graduate student combing the same research, Wright is on target. The two most interesting aspects of his book is that he actually interviewed,face to face, prominent researchers in this field. Moreover, Wright adeptly outlined the history behind this turbulent subject. He put into words what I have observed for years; that some well-educated psychologists can be blinded to convincing scientific evidence. It is courageous of Mr. Wright to actually name the researchers which might have ulterior motives not to examine the evidence with an objective eye. In the end, "Born that Way", may not be the definitive book on behavioral genetics. However, it is an outstanding reference for people who wish to know more about where psychology has been and where it will soon be grounded. I certainly recommend this book to psychology students.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
A wonderful book. Provides a detailed history of the nature/nurture controversy that has raged throughout the 20th century. Even though Wright makes no bones about his position (many characteristics are present from birth, although environment matters too) he gives thorough and fair coverage to the many arguments that arise over identical twin studies, adoption studies, etc.
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