A fascinating survey of the forces that shape who we are and how we act - from the author of The Calculus Diaries. Following her previous tours through the worlds of physics (Black Bodies and Quantum Cats) and calculus (The Calculus Diaries), acclaimed science writer Jennifer Ouellette now turns her attention to the mysteries of human identity and behavior with Me, Myself, and Why.
She draws on genetics, neuroscience, and psychology - enlivened as always with her signature sense of humor and pop-culture references - to explore how we become who we are. Ouellette lets listeners in on her own surprising journey of self-discover, as she has her genome sequenced, her brain mapped, her personality typed, and even samples a popular hallucinogen. Bringing together everything from Mendel's famous pea plant experiments and mutations in The X-Men to our taste in food and our relationship with avatars and our online selves, Ouellette delivers another fun and enlightening work of popular science that's sure to be enjoyed by her many fans.
©2014 Jennifer Ouellette (P)2014 Gildan Media LLC
This book exceeded my expectations. I wasn't sure if it would be a good fit. So many books that tackle the subject of personality have very little balance. Some take a self-help angle and largely ignore or misinterpret scientific data. Others focus heavily on scientific data but make crazy assumptions. For example, an author might include some great studies but make assumptions about the results of the study that are not at all warranted. The book Social by Lieberman falls into this category. The studies are great, and yet, the interpretation, even of the studies Lieberman himself conducted, were skewed and failed the grasp the very science they used to explain personality. Many, far too many, books about the science of personality out their authors as dated and stuck in the neo-Darwinian paradigm that touts genes over everything, where genes are narrowly defined. They debate nature OR nurture (so old and tired). No matter what technique, it seems as though the majority of writers argue against authors as unbalanced as themselves. Ouellette takes a markedly balanced view, which makes her stand out in books on science and personality.
Initially, I was also concerned that this book might not be a good fit because I majored in cognitive neuroscience and was familiar with all the usual studies and concerns addressed in this book. Yet, even when she wrote about the most basic concepts, she was entertaining, which kept me from being bored. She writes for the reader who is interested but might not have previous knowledge and, at the same time, can keep the interest of the reader who has heard it before. She can achieve this because no matter how new or old the material, her perspective is fresh. She has a gift for putting it all together into a final product that is more interesting that the sum of its parts.
Recently I read The Well-Dressed Ape by Hannah Holmes and was really unsatisfied with her take on gender and the brain. I was hungry for interesting studies, a good scientific foundation, AND a balanced and critical interpretation of what she discovered. It just wasn't there. Ouellette's discussion of gender and the brain was excellent and let me breathe out that long sigh I have been holding in since reading Holmes' book. Even weeks later, I was still so bothered by her limited perspective, even though I enjoy Holmes. Reading Ouellette restored my faith in pop sci book that choose to tackle the scientific basis for gender differences. Using far fewer words than Holmes, Ouellette was able to introduce the reader to the scientific data and a wonderful interpretation of that data. She included crucial information about culture and its effect on the results that Holmes, whose main focus was gender, failed to include to a sufficient degree.
The structure Ouellette chose for her book worked extremely well. She was able to keep her reader interested in her story, of being adopted and trying to understand herself, while at the same time keeping the reader busy wondering about themselves and humans in general. There was a great mix of personal narrative, people watching, science, and history of scientific discovery. Her section on avatars will have you crushing on the most definitely geeky Ouellette. Her discussion of LSD was equally great. Ending the book with a discussion of memory and Orual was the perfect way to close.
Half memoir, half science of the self. The memoir seemed off topic. The science half is interesting.The reader's voice was too sweet and breathy for the material and had some odd ticks that threw me out of the story. She would make a great reader of children's books but seemed mis-matched for this.
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