Books by Dean Hamer

Released: March 1, 1998

A fast-paced account for the general reader of the growing body of research into the genes that drive human behavior. Hamer, a molecular geneticist at the National Cancer Institute who previously collaborated with Copeland on The Science of Desire (1994), skillfully synthesizes not only his own discoveries but most of the important findings in the young field of behavior genetics. He shows how genes contribute at the molecular level to such far-flung personality traits and disorders as thrill-seeking, anxiety, sex drive, addiction, and anorexia—and explains how scientists know. The most exciting parts of the book detail the twin studies, personality surveys, and mutant mice experiments through which researchers painstakingly gathered their evidence; even a computerized statistical analysis in quest of a hypothetical gene for neuroticism is suspenseful. As the discoverer of ``the so-called gay gene''—a term he debates—Hamer has first-hand acquaintance with the controversy that often greets claims about the heritability of homosexuality, criminal behavior, and intelligence. He shows good humor and reason in walking through these minefields, debunking some theories (such as those in The Bell Curve) while upholding the right to inquire. The book's awkward introduction misleadingly suggests a pop-psych book, replete with a vignette about a high-school reunion. Although such musings and advice are tendered throughout the book (e.g., how to stay in a relationship with a genetically driven novelty- seeker), they are usually acceptable as the conversational overflow of a scientist whose research has many implications for everyday life. His recurrent theme that ``predisposition is not predestination,'' nicely emphasized in a closing parable about cloning, is welcome. Compulsive reading, reminiscent of Jared Diamond, from a scientist who knows his stuff and communicates it well. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

An informal, first-person account of the discovery of a genetic link to male homosexuality by a scientist who has given thought to the ramifications of his findings. With the help of Scripps-Howard journalist Copeland, Hamer, a molecular geneticist who heads the National Cancer Institute's section on gene structure and regulation, describes in just the right amount of detail how he put together his research project on homosexuality. He relates how he obtained approval, funding, a research team, and a place to work; how he found the volunteers he needed (gay brothers willing to give blood samples and answer a lot of very personal questions); and what he learned from them and their family trees. Genetics being a statistical science, there's a fair amount of discussion of statistical techniques, but happily this is mostly presented with the general reader in mind. Hamer's account offers a glimpse into both the collegiality and the politics of science, and there's a delightful chapter on a confrontation he had at Harvard with critics of his research. The final portion of his book presents theories about how genes may influence sexual behavior and other human attributes and speculation about the implication of his research. In July 1993, in the midst of intense public debate over gays in the military, the journal Science published Hamer's paper, ``A Linkage Between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation.'' Tabloids and TV talk shows took it from there. Hamer does not dwell on his time in the spotlight, but the experience evidently sharpened his awareness of public concerns and misconceptions. After noting the possible misuses of genetic research, Hamer concludes that the real danger lies in not studying sex at all. Appendixes include the Science article (not seen) and the interview questionnaire used with research participants. Nothing to titillate, but plenty to think about. (Illustrations, not seen) (Author tour) Read full book review >