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No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality Paperback – June 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why do identical twins who grow up together differ in personality? Harris attempts to solve that mystery. Her initial thesis in The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do is replaced here with a stronger, more detailed one based on evolutionary psychology. Reading this book is akin to working your way through a mystery novel—complete with periodic references to Sherlock Holmes. And Harris has a knack for interspersing scientific and research-laden text with personal anecdotes. Initially, she refutes five red herring theories of personality differences, including differences in environment and gene-environment interactions. Eventually, Harris presents her own theory, starting from modular notions of the brain (as Steven Pinker puts it, "the mind is not a single organ but a system of organs"). Harris offers a three-systems theory of personality: there's the relationship system, the socialization system and the status system. And while she admits her theory of personality isn't simple, it is thought provoking. Harris ties up the loose ends of the new theory, showing how the development of the three systems creates personality. Harris's writing is highly entertaining, which will help readers stick with her through the elaboration of a fairly complex theory. 12 b&w illus. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

Where does adult personality come from? Why are we all different? These are the questions energizing Judith Rich Harris’s new book.

Harris, a former textbook author turned popular writer, dives right in, sharpening her focus by looking at identical twins. After subtracting the share contributed by their mutual genes—about 45 percent—studies show that adult identical twins are no more alike in personality than people plucked at random from a crowd, even though the siblings were raised in the same home, by the same parents, with identical schooling.

Where, then, do personality differences come from? Harris begins, in a savage fashion familiar to readers of her Nurture Assumption, by recounting factors that do not contribute to personality differences. She debunks dozens of studies by psychologists—especially the "developmentalists" and "interventionists" who believe that better parenting or school environments can affect how children turn out—by pointing out where they have fudged numbers and twisted results. She rejects the basis of psychoanalysis, stating there is no evidence that talking about childhood experiences has therapeutic value. She also maintains that learned behaviors do not readily transfer from one situation to another, noting that even babies behave differently to fit different environments.

To answer her opening questions, Harris then develops a complex scheme based on "the modular mind," a framework set forth by Harvard University evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker and others. (Harris herself has no doctorate and is housebound by systemic sclerosis and lupus, two autoimmune disorders.) She describes three modules—the relationship system, the socialization system and the status system—and explains how each contributes its part to making us who we are. The relationship system starts in the cradle as infants study and learn the faces and voices of the people around them, collecting information that helps form personality. The socialization system adapts people to their culture. The status system takes all the information collected during childhood and adolescence and shapes and modifies our personalities in accord with our environments.

Harris’s last chapter lays out her theory in tabular form, explaining how each module interacts with the others to produce our distinct personalities. It is lavishly footnoted, like the rest of the book, shoring up her strategy of pointing out the failings of other models and then proposing her own. Her goal, she writes, is to explain the variations in personality that cannot be attributed to variations in people’s genes. After saying she believes she has succeeded, she throws down her gauntlet: "I will leave it to other people to test my theory."

Jonathan Beard --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329712
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329711
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 86 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on February 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Judith Rich Harris is the controversial author of "The Nurture Assumption." She holds no PhD degree and is affiliated with no prestigious institutions, yet her book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. "No Two Alike" is somewhat of a memoir of her research and the writing of these two books. She has obviously been meticulous about her fact-finding and more than one bad study and sloppy researcher has suffered embarrassment (if not exposure) under her scrutiny.

In "Nurture Assumption," Harris took on most authorities in developmental psychology, who seemed to think that if a kid didn't turn out just right (whatever that meant) that kid was assumed to have received sub-par parenting...certain interventions could and should have been done that would have brought about a better result. Never in world history had so much blame been placed on parents, and Harris didn't buy it. In her opinion, childhood environmental influence that lasts into adulthood didn't come from parents. It came from the child's peer group, and she produced reams of research to prove it.

Harris wrote child development texts for several years, drawing on authorities from many fields of study. The discrepancies amongst disciplines led her to believe that the academics must never read each others' research. One day she realized she simply didn't believe what she was writing. This nagging thought led her to do her own survey of the literature, which eventually inspired her to write "Nurture Assumption."

She continues along the same lines of thought in "No Two Alike," but concentrates on related questions: If personality characteristics aren't molded at home, how are they molded? What is so important about the peer group?
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Sioran on September 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I really love "The Nurture Assumption". I bought multiple copies to my relatives, friends and colleagues, and some of them bought additional copies to their friends and colleagues. I thought the major thesis of that book was confused, but the insight into the role of peer groups was both highly original and true. Harrris' failure at Harvard and her subsequent success, certified, among others, by the very people who found her incompetent many years ago, felt moving and most inspiring. Harris' childhood experience of peer-rejection as well as her illness brought additional layer of charm and humanity to her excellent writing. The writing remained quite good in the "No Two Alike" and the sense of humor is still there, although I find it to be a little bit too crude in both books. But most of the other qualities are lost.

In "No Two Alike" Harris admits that she had previously confused socialization (a process that makes people alike) and personality development (a process that makes people different), and now proposes a new theory that will address the latter. Again, her goal is to explain why there are personality differences between identical twins (including those raised together). The proposed theory is different from the previous one and less obviously confused. It is also much less original and must less interesting. According to Harris this time, what makes identical twins differ is, at the bottom, that other people's opinions of them are different. And they are different, because twins are different individuals for whom other people store information separately. She doesn't say it this way, and in any case, she appears to think that this is a very different explanation from simply saying that unexplained variance in personality is due to noise.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By G. Bestick VINE VOICE on May 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the more fascinating aspects of being human is that we're all built from the same parts, yet we all have different personalities. What makes you you and me me? Confronted with this question, most people would respond that it's some blend of nature (the genes you inherited from your parents) and nurture (the environment you were raised in). Judith Rich Harris debunks that answer and replaces it with an elegant hypothesis about the true sources of human uniqueness.

In the first part of her book, Harris takes developmental and social psychologists to task for over-emphasizing the influence of early childhood experiences on personality formation and not giving enough credit to what happens outside the home. She also maintains that developmental studies that don't screen for genetic influences are prone to confuse cause and effect. She shows how research that's been inadequately digested makes its way into mainstream culture, where it's regurgitated as pop truth. According to Harris, most of the conventional wisdom about birth order, home environment, parenting style, and the interaction of genes and the home environment does not adequately explain why we're different from one other.

Having eliminated the usual suspects, Harris turns to Stephen Pinker's How The Mind Works as her starting point for solving the mystery of human personality. Pinker posits that our brains are organized into "mental modules" that perform discrete tasks. Some examples of modular systems are facial recognition, language acquisition, and our ability to postulate what other people are thinking (a theory of mind). All of these had evolutionary value to small tribes of wandering hominids, and evolved to better serve our survival needs.
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