Quirk: Brain Science Makes Sense of Your Peculiar Personality

Hannah Holmes, Random, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6840-1
The contours of the human soul emerge from the scamperings of mutant rodents in this sprightly exposition of the biological roots of behavior. Science journalist Holmes (The Well-Dressed Ape) tours neurology and psychology labs the world over where genetically engineered mice, rats, and voles explore mazes; survive shocks, dunkings, and being hung upside down by their tails; get hooked on cocaine and have their brains probed for chemicals. Amid their ordeals, Holmes contends, they display rudimentary, pint-sized versions of human personality traits like anxiety, cheerfulness, altruism, self-discipline, and even artsiness. Holmes links their travails to deft explorations of the latest research into human psychology and makes insightful firsthand observations of specific personalities, from her own shy neuroticism to her husband's impulsive extroversion and scientists' quivering dread of animal rights "terrorists." The author's take is relentlessly mechanistic: personality, in her view, is largely the product of genes, governed by the involuntary action of hormones and neurotransmitters, and explained by potted speculations about evolutionary advantages that are interesting if not always convincing. Fortunately, her tart reductionism ("Spark, schmark!... Humans have no more sacred spark in our personality than squirrels do") is softened by sympathetic reportage and whimsical humor. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/20/2010
Release date: 02/01/2011
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