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Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives Paperback – September 2, 1997
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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. Sulloway concedes that the focus on Darwin is a logical result of the naturalist's showing the world how evolution works. The traits he describes have biological roots, intensified by the human condition. Human families have a long time to build the patterns he describes. Since Sulloway's thesis shows that cultural and socio-economic factors have little or no bearing on the evolutionary patterns established, previous dogmas will have to be revised or discarded. In more than one sense he's duplicating Darwin's own experience.
The book concludes with a series of Appendices explaining how Sulloway built his database of events and people. He uses 121 historical "revolutions" and nearly two dozen scientific ones, as well as the Reformation to support his thesis. The criteria for selection are given and explained. He's not averse to challenges by other scholars, but they'd best have their data firmly in hand. He's buttressed his case admirably. Only one serious challenge to Sulloway's effort has emerged since this book was published. Readers should be aware of Judith Rich Harris' critique of Sulloway's methods in the Appendix of her The Nurture Assumption. This is not the place to examine the debate, but both should be reviewed by readers. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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.
The work itself has generated much controversy. I am not so much interested in that as in the book itself. He states clearly his basic thesis (Page 53): "Most innovations in science, especially radical ones, have been initiated and championed by laterborns. Firstborns tend to reject new ideas, especially when the innovation appears to upset long-accepted principles." As a firstborn, I am, of course, instantly skeptical!
Sulloway brings a wide array of evidence to bear on his thesis. As noted elsewhere, there is some controversy there, but I am still impressed with the scope of his work.
My colleagues and I, in our book, asked a different question--not about innovation and revolution: Is birth order related at all to political eminence and leadership. We studied birth order in terms of its effects on (a) the odds of being president of the US, becoming a Supreme Court Justice, becoming a member of Congress, military achievement at West Point and (b) the chances of being a British Prime Minister, Soviet leadership, United Nations secretaries general, Pope, and great generals in history. It was often quite difficult to ascertain birth order. Bottom line, though? No real impact of birth order.
It is that set of findings more than any other that raises some questions in my mind. I simply find it hard to believe that birth order can be so powerful--whether in terms of leading to eminence or to being a rebel.
Nonetheless, Sulloway's book is provocative, raises many questions, and ends up being--at least in my opinion--worth taking a look at.