Sunday, October 5, 2008

Judith Rich Harris' "No Two Alike"

Harris writes a very carefully, well thought out, argument for her view of how environment shapes personality. He carefully disposes of a number of proposed theories. She shows that behavioural geneticists have a good story to tell, but there remains a substantial part of us as individuals that the genes don't shape.

She rehearses her arguments from an earlier book that parents do not shape personality. Instead, she offers a new theory of a modular mind with three systems:
  1. the relationship system
  2. the socialization system
  3. the status system
That interact to help drive individuals, even identifical twins, to differ.

She paints a fascinating picture. She is honest and up-front about the limitations of her theorizing (she works from an armchair since she was excluded from academia). She is scrupulous in detailing strengths and weaknesses in competing theories. She tells a compelling story.

This is an excellent book. Too dry for the casual reader, but for a motivated general science reader, this book is well crafted and full of the detail and insight that makes popular reading of science a joy. It is not often that I put down a book and say "I need to re-read this". But this is a book that stimulated me with ideas so much that I really would like to find the time to delve again into it to savour the book but, more importantly, to absorb her arguments more fully and make them my own. This book deserves close reading and a second reading.

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