Books by William Wright

Released: June 16, 1998

An enthusiastic, informative account of the young field of behavioral genetics that could use less of the reporter and more of the subject. Wright (The Von Bulow Affair, 1983; Lillian Hellman, 1986; etc.) acknowledges himself a nonscientist who "roots" for the growing view that human behavior is heavily influenced by genes, as against the traditional social science perspective that environment alone is responsible. Though this admission of journalistic bias is refreshing, Wright overdoes it: His repeated attacks on "genophobes" begin to sound bullying. To dismiss psychoanalysis by speaking of a "Freudian-analytic Anschluss" is not only overstated but unkind, given that Freud was a refugee from the actual Anschluss. Wright is better at expounding the thinking of behavioral geneticists, particularly their complex view of the interaction of environment and heredity, though his account of their research is lopsided. Most of the book's first third is devoted to an engrossing, detailed account of Thomas Bouchard's studies of reared-apart twins. The middle third too hurriedly covers other top researchers'such as Dean Hamer, whose recent Living with Our Genes (p. 171) is less contentious and better at detailing specific gene-behavior links. The last third gives a polemical account of the historical shift from eugenics to environmentalism to behavioral genetics. Wright's criticisms of intellectually dishonest "antigene screeds" are well taken, but the constant jabbing takes up space that could have been filled with more data. In a concluding chapter on the implications of gene-behavior links, he unconvincingly theorizes that knowledge of these links can make people more tolerant. Maybe, but also more patronizing: In a discussion of abortion, Wright characterizes the pro-choice position as rational and high-minded, the pro-life position as a benighted one driven by genes. The book leaves one wishing to hear less from polemicists rooting for or against genes and more from scientists striving to find out exactly what genes do. (Author tour) Read full book review >
PAVAROTTI: MY WORLD by Luciano Pavarotti
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A big serving of Luciano Lite, ladled out by the affable tenor in generous portions. Pavarotti and collaborator Wright have made a veritable industry out of the singer's life; this is their third ``as-told- to'' project, picking up the thread of Pavarotti's life story about 15 years ago. The Three Tenors concerts; Latin American tours; running the Philadelphia Vocal Competition; sponsoring a new international horse show; performing in exotic locales like China and Singapore are the highlights of the singer's recent life. The character that Pavarotti and Wright create in this memoir is unrelentingly upbeat, positive, and never bears a grudge; Wright describes him as a person of ``unwavering humanity . . . across- the-board compassion . . . [and] absence of rancor.'' Although Pavarotti's larger-than-life personality dominates the book, some of the colorful characters who make up the operatic world also appear, particularly Hungarian-born promoter Tibor Rudas, who specializes in arranging grand-scale extravaganzas like Pavarotti's outdoor concert on Miami Beach. Pavarotti offers us brief portraits of the many famous people he has met, from Princess Diana (``so lovely, so kind, and so poised'') to Bruce Springsteen (``Like me, he appears to draw terrific energy from an audience''). Rumors of ill will between Pavarotti and his archrival Placido Domingo are quickly brushed aside (``We [are] completely friendly''), although there are no amusing anecdotes about Pavarotti spending his free time with Domingo, or indeed any other superstar singer. He reveals little tension or anxiety in his extended family (``My Wonderful Family,'' as one chapter titles them), even when he discusses a mysterious illness that plagued his youngest daughter. Coauthor Wright annoyingly inserts himself in the narrative as a character; Pavarotti is constantly commenting on ``Bill's'' presence, as if he were as important as the other characters. As light as a puff pastry, and as sugary sweet, but you'll be left hungry for more. (color and b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour) Read full book review >