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Are We Hardwired?: The Role of Genes in Human Behavior

The notion that our chromosomes might dictate some of our behavior makes DNA a four-letter word to strict nurturists. Yet there is strong evidence that genes do exert an influence over some part of nearly of our personalities. Immunologist William R. Clark and biochemist Michael Grunstein tackle this sticky issue in Are We Hardwired? The Role of Genes in Human Behavior, an evenhanded explanation and critique of current thinking on the topic. Exploring twin and family studies, biochemical research into the nervous systems of humans and less complex animals, and specific qualities like aggression, eating, and sexual preference, the authors show that as with most other phenotypic expression, genes interact with each other and with environmental factors to produce tendencies toward behavior. Their thinking is more complex than the journalistic attachment to "aggression genes" and other such simplifications. They would rather see and understand the intricate array of genes and the proteins they help to create than blame Johnny's brutality on a particular lonely stretch of his Y chromosome. This is exemplified by their refusal to use the word "intelligence" except when required for historical accuracy; this single concept has caused much more trouble than understanding since its inception. The prose is quiet and easygoing, the scientific explanations are clear but pull no punches, and the authors take great pains to expose the tremendous dangers of eugenics, making Are We Hardwired? one of the clearest, most useful books yet published on the nurture-nature debate. --Rob Lightner
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