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Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence Paperback – January 7, 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Hardly a week goes by without a headline screaming out the details of another heinous crime committed by an adolescent or young child. A 14-year-old massacres his classmates at a school prayer circle, two even younger boys fire into a crowd of middle school children killing five people, a student kills his teacher at the school prom. There is no doubt that crimes committed by children are increasing at an alarming rate and the big question is why? The authors of Ghosts from the Nursery produce compelling if not controversial evidence that violent behavior is learned and cultivated in the first few months of childhood development. Even more startling, the authors Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley believe that a predisposition to violent behavior can be learned before birth. A "chemical wash" of toxins such as drugs and alcohol, combined with a mother's stress hormones generated from rage or fear can directly effect the babies brain development. Illustrative case studies and anecdotes make for a fascinating and factually "fat" read. Lacking in the book is an acknowledgment of the larger picture--not all children raised in violent homes will become violent, and on an even larger scale, there is no mention of other contributing factors leading to teen violence. Would crimes be cut if guns weren't so readily available? Still, Ghosts from the Nursery is an engrossing book, which is bound to generate hot debate in the scientific world. --Naomi Gesinger --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Ghosts from the Nursery is ominous and persuasive. . . . [Karr-Morse and Wiley] join a growing chorus of childhood development experts in insisting that, to be effective, programs seeking to insure the welfare of children must intervene even before birth. . . .The unspoken message of Ghosts from the Nursery is more sobering still. It seems we have strayed so far from common sense and sensitivity in child rearing that we must rely on brain scans and F.B.I. statistics to remind us of what babies have always needed to thrive: attention, nourishment, stability and love." —The New York Times Book Review

"A deeply disturbing wake-up call." —Publishers Weekly

"Karr-Morse and Wiley boldly raise some tough issues. . . . [They] start with a grim question—why are children violent?—and they forge a passionate and cogent argument for focusing our collective energies on infancy and parenthood to stop the cycle of ruined lives." —The Seattle Times

"An expert, disturbing and vitally important book . . . . If the problem of violence in America concerns you, read this book. You will be given no quick fixes. You are given truth. And it’s truth all of us need to know." —Statesman Journal

"An alarming book with national scope. . . . [Its] methodical approach tying childhood development to recent research about the brain pushes us one step further down the road to dealing two intersecting and important issues: how to protect society from its growing pocket of violent citizens and how to protect children from the abuse and neglect that lead to membership in that terrible club." —The Portland Oregonian

"This book will make you realize as never before the importance of the 0-3-year period in every child’s life. Ghosts from the Nursery shows the heavy price society pays for child abuse and neglect. This book skillfully takes a very real and frightening issue and encourages us to work harder to end it." —Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, United States Senate

"Right! Right! Right! This easy-to-read book is right on track for helping guide policy makers and parents about America’s most precious resource . . . her children. I highly recommend it." —Dr. Ken Magid, author of High Risk: Children Without a Conscience

"The first three years of life are crucial not only to children but also to the whole society in which they live and grow and eventually reproduce. It is in the context of the self-interest even of those who care least for small children that this book appeals for child-friendly practices and policies—and should be widely heard." —Penelope Leach, Ph.D., author of Children First

"Essential reading for anyone interested in the roots of violence and in finding ways of reducing violence in our society." —Geraldine Dawson, Professor of Psychology, University of Washington, and editor of Human Behavior and the Developing Brain

"Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith Wiley are to be applauded for so successfully tracing the roots of violence to the complex early relations between brain and behavioral development. The story they tell is one that should be heard, and the warning bells they sound should be our wake-up call to do better by our children." —Charles A. Nelson, Professor of Child Psychology, Pediatrics, and Neuroscience, University of Minnesota

"In this remarkable and timely book, Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith Wiley interweave the compelling narrative of a child who has committed a violent crime with a comprehensive description of current relevant studies on attachment disturbances and brain development (many of which are being presented to the informed public for the first time) in order to convincingly argue that the roots of violence are cultivated in infancy. . . . The essential question is how we as a society can transform this pragmatic knowledge into very early prevention programs." —Allan N. Schore, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine

"Ghosts from the Nursery is an impressive book. As I read it I found myself wishing that I had had all the information and wisdom in this book back when I started working with children. The authors have done a wonderful job of digesting and presenting various complex areas and issues in a clear, entertaining fashion. It is a rare combination of skill, insight and intelligence that produced this book." —Bruce D. Perry, MD, Ph.D.

"[Karr-Morse and Wiley] clearly and powerfully elucidate why children are capable of the most heinous crimes possible and why violence has reached epidemic proportions. The future is bleak for all of us if we do not heed the warnings of children in need of nurturing, guidance and concerned parenting. This is a clear, well-researched book that deserves wide reading." —Matilda Raffa Cuomo

"Violence is one of the most compelling problems of our time, not only in our nation , but around the world. Ghosts from the Nursery is a major contribution to a new understanding of this issue. The premises set forth are backed with hard data from many relevant sources and it is written in an elegant and interesting literary style. I highly recommend it." —Dr. Stella Chess, MD

"Ghosts from the Nursery is a must read book for those who seek to repair shattered lives—and those who seek to prevent the shattering. An important book for people who try to make the world a more civilized place." —Craig Ramey, Director, Civitan International Research Center

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871137348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871137340
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book has gotten excellent and well-deserved advance praise from a variety of sources. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in children, children's issues, social policy, or even just looking for some fascinating information on the development of the human brain (and all that that implies). It is clear, just from news accounts, that younger and younger children are committing crimes that are more and more violent. This book is an explanation for this rising tide of violence by youth using the latest early brain development research, case studies, etc. This book asks us to look at the (largely ignored in practice and policy) 0-3 age group as a source of changing this tide of violence. Abuse, neglect, head injury, chemicals, etc. all have lasting effects on the developing child & child's brain. "Ghosts From The Nursery" shows us that we really need look not much further than early childhood to explain and alter this expanding youth violence, anger and crime. There are chapters on brain development and substances that are well-written and easy for the layman to understand. There is an excellent chapter on the important role that fathers play in their children's development, and there are some excellent resources. With all of the discussion of the importance of the 0-3 age group that is currently cropping up, this is the best and most comprehensive book for the exact importance of that age group.
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Format: Paperback
The author's general hypothesis for this book is the importance of the first two years of life (including in utero) to child development, and how when a combination of factors are combined, it is easy to predict that a child will turn to violence.

A fascinating book that is well-researched. I was able to understand the importance that the first two years of life have for a child, and how a baby deprived of love and the essentials for emotional and physical growth can be affected for the rest of their life by this time.

If you're a parent and you're interested by this book, also check out "Our Babies, Ourselves".

If you're looking for a book on how your child, raised in a happy and functional home, can avoid violence, this is probably not it. But if you read in the papers about children who carry guns to school and wonder why it happens, you're barking up the right alley. :)
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Format: Paperback
Violence committed by children is in the news on an almost weekly basis. With each incident that occurs, the children seem to be younger and younger, the latest being a six-year-old shooting to death another six-year-old classmate. When the general public is supplied with media reports which fail to look at the real roots of these violent behaviors, our desire for the quick and simple explanations often leads us to scapegoat poverty or race as a means to excuse these heinous crimes.
The authors of Ghosts from the Nursery provide compelling evidence that violent behavior is learned in not only the first two years of life, but is derived from abusive and neglectful environments the first few months of early development. In fact, the authors share significant evidence revealing a predisposition to violent behavior that can be a direct result to exposure of toxins such as drugs and alcohol, combined with a mother's stress hormones generated from rage or fear, can directly affect brain development of the fetus. What makes this important? The core of an individuals ability to think, feel and relate to others is formed during the first years of life. Exposure to an environment overwhelmed with extreme abuse and neglect can seriously hamper this important development.
I feel the following passage from this book provides a profound affirmation which requires us not only to look at societal implications of violence in the family, but how it reaches families across cultural and classical boundaries:
"Impoverishment in the families producing violent children often exists at a deeper than material level. When looking closely at the families of violent children across classes and racial differences, we find an impoverishment of human connectedness, trust, support and emotional nurturing.
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Format: Paperback
If there is one book that could potentially change the direction of public policy regarding children's issues, this could be it. The authors delve into recent research into brain development. They presents their findings in a clear, understandable form. This research is then associated with what this means to our society. A case study, regarding a 16 year old boy who murdered an 84 year old man, weaves its way through the book so readers can relate the data to a real person.
This book examines how recent studies using PET and MRI scans and other methods allow us to better understand the human brain. Most of the crucial brain development occurs before a child reaches three years old. During those years, the human brain is programmed to adapt to its environment. Frontal lobe activity can be stimulated by parental involvement. A lack of this activity can lead to lifelong depressed behavior. What a baby is exposed to, or not exposed to, determines how the brain forms and how the brain is apt to operate for the rest of life.
A child who does not find empathy by the age of three is likely to have difficulty showing empathy towards others. A person without consideration for others has a much greater tendency to drift towards anti-social behavior such as violent crime. A baby growing up in a withdrawn or hostile environment may begin life at a signficant disadvantage.
The policy debate this creates is enormous. "Liberals" may call for taking steps to see that babies' brains are properly stimulated during the critical formulative years. Outreach programs to pregnant women and families with babies should provide information on good parenting techniques. There should be high quality child care with programs that stimulate babies' brain developments.
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