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The Other Side of Normal: How Biology Is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior Hardcover – May 8, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Enlisting research in evolutionary biology, genetics, and psychology, along with advances in molecular neuroscience and neuroimaging, Harvard psychiatrist Smoller redefines the biology of normal. Genetic variation, natural selection, environment, and unique individual experiences coalesce in molding our social and emotional selves. He considers the neural basis of social cognition, empathy, and even love, both the romantic and maternal varieties. Smoller maps out the biology of disgust, resiliency, and fear and then correlates these phenomena with anatomical areas of the brain—the insula, hippocampus, and amygdala, respectively. We learn that our memories get resculpted. And that oxytocin, a peptide hormone consisting of a measly nine amino acids, works like a love potion in women and also stimulates trust. In the fetching chapter The Brain of the Beholder: Beauty and Sexual Attraction, we find out that evolution seems to favor symmetrical facial features and statistically middling appearances rather than an exotic visage. In the worlds of psychiatry and neuroscience, normal is hardly average nor necessarily an ideal state but, rather, a landscape of human possibility. --Tony Miksanek

Review

“Move over Oliver Sacks - I couldn’t put this fascinating book down! Path-breaking and witty, as entertaining as it is informative, The Other Side of Normal is filled with insights into why we behave as we do and how biology determines so much of our emotional makeup. A brilliant mind and dazzling writer, Smoller has written a book that will change the way you look at every day life.” (Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and New York Times bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother)

“Exciting... provocative...Clearly and articulately, he ties evolutionary psychology, biological psychiatry, animal behavior, and related fields into a package of rare coherence.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Highly interesting and accessible study of brain science and behavior....This thoroughly documented work provides enough information to satisfy the science-savvy without leaving the rest of us behind....Readers will be fascinated.” (Library Journal)

“An informative overview of research in neuroscience that provides a scientific foundation for understanding mental disorders.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Smoller redefines the biology of normal.” (Booklist)

“Are we born crazy, or is crazy thrust upon us? Smoller investigates.” (Denver Post)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061492191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061492198
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #568,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jordan Smoller is Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By ARP on June 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Contrary to a review recently posted by GregJS, the "self-proclaimed central issue" of this book was not, to my read, a commentary on the socio-cultural aspects of defining normal. That sort of debate often centers on the idea that "normal" is a social construction; for instance, if we were all to decide tomorrow that walking on our hands was normal, then feet-walkers would suddenly be abnormal, and so normal is just what we decide it is. If you are looking for THAT commentary, GregJS is right, you'll be disappointed.

This book, instead, takes a good, hard look at "abnormal," as defined by psychology and psychiatry (think back to your "Abnormal Psychology" class in college), and makes the reader think hard about what abnormal actually is (and isn't). Jordan Smoller, the author of _The Other Side of Normal_ is a psychiatrist and epidemiologist, he is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, and he's published a lot of research on the genetics of psychiatric disorders. And the book is very much written from that perspective (except maybe it's written much more clearly, and speaks to the layperson a lot more easily than you might expect from a Harvard professor). It includes a very very broad review of what we know about how biology contributes to human behavior. And the author suggests that in understanding how the brain is wired to do "normal" things (e.g., like respond to a dangerous encounter in a dark alley with a fight or flight instinct), we can better understand what psychology/psychiatry identify as "abnormal" (e.g., like anxiety disorders whereby people have that 'fight or flight' feeling, even when they're not in a dark alley and there's no one dangerous around).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ginny on September 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is fascinating reading and very informative. I am a Physician Assistant in pediatrics and deal with children with various diagnoses. The author is able to offer an understanding some of the latest research with real life examples. As the parent of two adopted children with some neurological issues I also appreciated the authors insights. Good for both health care providers and parents wanting some perspective and understanding of mental health and neurological issues.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stanley J. Landau on June 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
An area that I really never thought about, the book,in a lucid, logical fashion prompted me into thinking about the evolution of normal. Who and why we are examined in a logical, provacative and often humorous manner. Well worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steve W on June 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
I've been learning about the brain over the past years, exploring from many angles. So much of the science is changing right now, and most of what was written (physiological, psychological, and in terms of evolutionary biology and behavioral sciences) more than 10 years ago is out of date, and sometimes even just bad science. This book is an excellent bridge. It is well written. It's central thesis (that normal people have tendencies toward many clinical diagnoses (like addiction, the autism spectrum, and OCPD) that are rooted in neurophysiology and evolutionary biology. The writing is both insightful and useful. There are also many intelligent thoughts that shed new light on evolutionary biology as relates to behavioral sciences and psychology. At its core, the approach is scientific (not social sciences based "science"), with useful references to academic, scientific, and medical articles that have been published in refereed journals. It takes an approach that doesn't throw out the old, but rather explains the good science that was done in the new light of recent advances in areas such as the role of myleanation in learning and PTSD. It is perhaps the best brain book I've read lately. It does not require companion books to get through it, and the writing is easily understandable for educated adults.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Kelly on January 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent book on a subject that most people have at least some curiosity about. What makes us the people that we are? And is it possible to raise the next generation in a way that they will develop all of our strengths with none of our weaknesses. Much of the book focuses on the complex dynamics at play between "nature" and "nurture", how one effects the other and how the two really cannot be seperated. There is a lot of information here about the latest science in the field of biology, as well as the current theories on psyciatry, presented in a way that can easily be understood by someone who does not work in either of those fields while also keeping the reader entertained. The author presents the idea that we should really view traits that are commonly thought of as abnormal, as the extreme ends of the normal spectrum. Personality traits are not black and white and that opens up a lot of room to explore previously unexplored grey areas that most of us fall into. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the subject. Although it is a decent sized book, I read it very fast t kept me interested from beginning to end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Bush on May 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Easy read with a great overview that brings together all the current evidence regarding neuro-science, developmental psychology, biology and allowed me to put the pieces together. As a graduate student in mental health counseling, we are called upon to understand those influences that impact behavior and we can often be isolated from the psychiatrists that focus on brain chemistry and dance with various theorists that put more weight on a favorite model to explain behavior. In this book the reader is offered a scientific model that integrates knowledge to support the validity and there for appreciation of the multitude of influences that impact our thinking and behaviors. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any one, clinical or non clinical in their exposure to the topic. The ideal that normal has to be considered on a continuum and the obvious pitfalls in DSM diagnosis has always been somewhat obvious, however this book is dedicated to much broader horizons and is the sort of book that should be required reading in a psych 101 class. Great book for anyone.
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