A sturdy, scientifically grounded, and anecdotally engaging study of the factors that shape us.

UNIQUE

THE NEW SCIENCE OF HUMAN INDIVIDUALITY

A professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine probes the individual traits that make us who we are.

Linden looks at how heredity interacts with experience and “the inherent randomness in the development of the body.” Although he notes that we have only a general understanding of how molecular mechanisms come together to make us individuals, he fearlessly delves into genetic factors, the experience-driven expression of genes, and the subtle changes in the number, position, biochemical activity, and movement of cells within the developing nervous system. The author picks apart those aspects that are biologically regulated and those that are the product of social experience—attachment, social warmth, neglect, and bullying—and describes how they affect brain development. There are a variety of sex manifestations that don’t always sort easily into male and female, and gender is even more variable. Linden provides lucid examinations of the range and dynamism of sexual expression. Regarding food preferences, the author writes, “we have succeeded by being food generalists. As a species, we can’t be overly predetermined when it comes to food. We must adapt to local availability through learning.” However, there is clear evidence of genetic variation in taste sensors as well as life-stage influences on taste sensation. After a foray into gene expression and how it addresses some particular challenge—e.g., high-altitude living “in the Semien Mountains of Ethiopia or the high Tibetan plateau”—Linden moves on to the contentious role of population genetics, systematically refuting pseudo-scientific racist arguments. The author untangles the cultural, biological, and socio-economic factors at play, the fallacy of selective pressures, the fluidity of racial populations, heritable and nonheritable components, and the crystallized and malleable elements of intelligence. Ultimately, the author concludes, “interacting forces of heredity, experience, plasticity, and development resonate to make us unique.”

A sturdy, scientifically grounded, and anecdotally engaging study of the factors that shape us.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5416-9888-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY)

The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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