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Quirk: Brain Science Makes Sense of Your Peculiar Personality [Kindle Edition]

Hannah Holmes
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $26.00
Kindle Price: $11.84
You Save: $14.16 (54%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Who are you? It’s the most fundamental of human questions. Are you the type of person who tilts at windmills, or the one who prefers to view them from the comfort of an air-conditioned motorcoach? Our personalities are endlessly fascinating—not just to ourselves but also to our spouses, our parents, our children, our co-workers, our neighbors. As a highly social species, humans have to navigate among an astonishing variety of personalities. But how did all these different permutations come about? And what purpose do they serve?

With her trademark wit and sly humor, Hannah Holmes takes readers into the amazing world of personality and modern brain science. Using the Five Factor Model, which slices temperaments into the major factors (Extraversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness) and minor facets (such as impulsive, artistic, or cautious), Holmes demonstrates how our genes and brains dictate which factors and facets each of us displays. Are you a Nervous Nelly? Your amygdala is probably calling the shots. Hyperactive Hal? It’s all about the dopamine.

Each facet took root deep in the evolution of life on Earth, with Nature allowing enough personal variation to see a species through good times and bad. Just as there are introverted and extroverted people, there are introverted and extroverted mice, and even starfish. In fact, the personality genes we share with mice make them invaluable models for the study of disorders like depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety. Thus it is deep and ancient biases that guide your dealings with a very modern world. Your personality helps to determine the political party you support, the car you drive, the way you eat M&Ms, and the likelihood that you’ll cheat on your spouse.

Drawing on data from top research laboratories, the lives of her eccentric friends, the conflicts that plague her own household, and even the habits of her two pet mice, Hannah Holmes summarizes the factors that shape you. And what she proves is that it does take all kinds. Even the most irksome and trying personality you’ve ever encountered contributes to the diversity of our species. And diversity is the key to our survival.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The contours of the human soul emerge from the scamperings of mutant rodents in this sprightly exposition of the biological roots of behavior. Science journalist Holmes (The Well-Dressed Ape) tours neurology and psychology labs the world over where genetically engineered mice, rats, and voles explore mazes; survive shocks, dunkings, and being hung upside down by their tails; get hooked on cocaine and have their brains probed for chemicals. Amid their ordeals, Holmes contends, they display rudimentary, pint-sized versions of human personality traits like anxiety, cheerfulness, altruism, self-discipline, and even artsiness. Holmes links their travails to deft explorations of the latest research into human psychology and makes insightful firsthand observations of specific personalities, from her own shy neuroticism to her husband's impulsive extroversion and scientists' quivering dread of animal rights "terrorists." The author's take is relentlessly mechanistic: personality, in her view, is largely the product of genes, governed by the involuntary action of hormones and neurotransmitters, and explained by potted speculations about evolutionary advantages that are interesting if not always convincing. Fortunately, her tart reductionism ("Spark, schmark!... Humans have no more sacred spark in our personality than squirrels do") is softened by sympathetic reportage and whimsical humor. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In this lively guide to how the brain works, nonscientist Holmes explains how biology can provide significant clues about why people feel and act as they do. She starts by explaining how four decades ago, military psychologists came up with five main personality factors: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Accordingly, she organizes her book in five sections. Presumably because she is simply a curious regular person, not a scientist, Holmes lays out technical information in an engaging, understandable way. Have trouble remembering what the prefrontal cortex does? Holmes explains that it�s the �CEO� of the brain. Not sure why some people get attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Holmes theorizes that ADHD helped hunters who needed to �hyperfocus.� One note: the book offers many short personality checklists. --Karen Springen

Product Details

  • File Size: 1879 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (February 22, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004C43FV6
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,725 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another adrenalin rush from Hannah Holmes February 22, 2011
Through her brainy, fascinating, accessible body of work, Hannah Holmes has changed the way I think--about my fellow humans, the planet we live on, the critters we kill and/or befriend, and my own human-animal self. Her voice is so warm and witty--and often hilarious--that you can almost forget how much you're learning. I highly recommend this new one, which explains human personality in terms of evolutionary biology and brain science. It might even help you be more patient with your neurotic cousin Jane, your obnoxious grandpa, or your super-organized little sister. Not to mention your own conscientious/anxious/extraverted/open/fraidycat/thrill-seeking [pick one] self. Who knew that science could get your pulse racing? QUIRK will make you feel smarter, better informed, and less alone. A++++
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars warning September 19, 2011
This is a great topic. It's basically the Five Factor personality model meets brain science meets evolutionary psychology. If you're not already familiar with all that ...

The Five Factor model (also called the Big 5, OCEAN, and CANOE) is a way to parse out each individual's personality. Different factors include open-mindedness, conscientiousness (AKA orderliness), extroversion, agreeableness (AKA accommodation), and neuroticism (i.e., as opposed to Emotional Stability). It's kind of like Myers-Briggs, if you're familiar with that. The good thing about the Five Factor model, though, is that a lot of research went into it. It's typically recognized as THE model for serious research.

Neuroscience means fMRI images and experimenting on mice to see which chemicals affect which parts of the brain to produce what behaviors, attitudes, and - finally - personality traits.

Evolutionary psychology posits that some of the ways we behave and think and feel were selected through evolution. For example, humans evolved in an environment of limited nutritional choices. That's why we crave sweets, fats, and salt. While that was effective hundred of thousands of years ago, when these things were scarce in the natural environment, it's very unhealthy and counter-productive today, when these things are cheap and available everywhere.

So, why three stars? It's less the topic (which I love) and more the style. I generally like books like this, books that take something pretty complex and boil them down a little and present them in an accessible way that the average reader can appreciate. Probably the prime example here is someone like a Malcolm Gladwell.

Holmes attempts something similar. For me, though, she goes a little overboard.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am loving this book! Hannah's descriptive, conversational and narrative writing style keeps it funny and interesting while she breaks down and explains things like brain chemistry and scientific stuff which I might shy away from if presented in a 'dryer' manner. She breaks down personality into 5 basic factors: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness, each with it's own facets. Each facet 'chapter' starts with a simple 3 question quiz which gives you an idea where you fall in the scale and then goes on to explain how this trait works as part of personality and why it might be useful from an evolutionary perspective.

In one section she asks "Imagine you're on an airplane that crashes in the jungle (no injuries, of course.) Who do you want to hang out with? the Neurotics who stay near the familiar airplane licking salt out of the empty pretzel bags? Or the impulsives who venture forth, picking strange fruit and taking that first bite? Do you want to hitch your fate to the guy who has the discipline to start a fire by grinding one damp stick against a damp piece of wood? Or would you rather follow the one who seems to notice every creak, snuffle, and snort in the forest?"

Who knew a book about brain-science could be fun, funny, smart and really engaging all at the same time?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read for a layperson May 18, 2011
Hannah Holmes' broad overview of the biology of personality makes for a quick and interesting read for the layperson. What you get here is a simple, somewhat fun, and dare I say it "quirky" glimpse into how brain structures and neurotransmitters such as Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Vasopressin function to affect who we are and how we act.

Not being a scientist myself, I can't vouch for the depth of her research, and I would certainly recommend double-checking statements she writes here with a more learned source before accepting them as solid facts, but at least she's honest about when she's speculating. In fact she even goes as far as to call herself out on some of the "coffee shop hyptotheses" she's drawing. Regardless, her conclusions do seem irrestitably logical and fairly grounded in research. You probably wouldn't want to use this book as a textbook for a masters degree in neuroscience, but as a layperson you could certainly do worse.

Stylistically she's a fun writer - short sentences and simple down-to-earth language make you feel more like you are chatting with a friend at the watercooler than learning about brain chemistry - and the book is nicely structured too, moving through a variety of common personality traits one by one and discussing what researchers are learning about each. She moves from the behavior of research rodents to the behavior of humans deftly but skeptically, and she follows each personality trait with a sensible speculation of how it may have evolved.

Overall, this book was a very worthwhile read. I zipped through it in a matter of a couple of days and felt somewhat enlightened about the actions of my friends and coworkers in the days that followed. If there's one valuable lesson to take from the book, it's perhaps that empathy for all types of personality traits - positive or negative - is warranted, because we're all at least in part slaves to the biology of our brains.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Nicely structured and good content, but I found a lot of it confusing
This book has the apparent rhetorical objective of bringing personality theory and evolutionary theory together to try to explain the elucidate individual personality by making... Read more
Published on December 14, 2012 by Todd I. Stark
5.0 out of 5 stars Personality, Survival Risk Strategy and Evolution made clear
A clear, neat and concise exploration of those complex interactions between genes and environment, and their expressions in the level of complexity we mammals live. Read more
Published on October 31, 2012 by Andre Lima
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great book from Holmes!
This is the second book I've read by Hannah Holmes, and as much as I enjoyed the first, I am deeply impressed by this one. Read more
Published on October 22, 2012 by the not-so-reverend bob
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Science, Style OK
At first the style of the author, talking about herself so much, bugged me. But by the time I got to the end of the book I was OK with it. Read more
Published on March 2, 2012 by Book Fanatic
1.0 out of 5 stars Cannot get past the Intro
I cannot read things by authors who make disparaging remarks about Christians. Such intolerance!! I just couldn't take this author seriously because of this. Read more
Published on January 30, 2012 by bwponder
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirk
This book lets one look at personalities and why they do the things they do and it explains certain personalities down to a tee. I found this book very interesting. Read more
Published on October 23, 2011 by ked
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-organized, engaging, easy to understand and follow with a liberal...
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

One of the engaging and interesting features of this book is the way Holmes begins each chapter -- with a short self-survey... Read more
Published on September 1, 2011 by rlweaverii
5.0 out of 5 stars Embracing our quirks
Do you ever wonder why some people are just so peculiar? (That is, why they act differently than you. Read more
Published on August 28, 2011 by Deb
5.0 out of 5 stars this book is amazing!
I am about half way through this book and I can't put it down! It came quickly and was really affordable.
Published on August 15, 2011 by jenna r
1.0 out of 5 stars How Can I Believe This
In the conclusion, she says that the limbic brain is also known as the "lizard brain." This is completely wrong. The limbic system is the "mammal brain. Read more
Published on April 23, 2011 by I. OLeary
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More About the Author
Hannah Holmes is a cheeky science writer whose expertise lies in the conversion of molehills to mountains. Bending her curiosity on the overlooked and the unassuming, she discovers the enormous miracles that nature and science have wrought in every living thing - and in unliving things, as well. She has written extensively for the Discovery Channel Online and dozens of national magazines; and has authored four books: The Secret Life of Dust; Suburban Safari; The Well Dressed Ape; and most recently Quirk, a gleeful examination of the evolution of personality in mouse and humankind.

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