cover image Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives

Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives

Frank J. Sulloway. Pantheon Books, $30 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44232-5

The thesis advanced by M.I.T. research scholar Sulloway (Freud: Biologist of the Mind) in this provocative, sure-to-be-controversial study is that firstborn children identify more strongly with power and authority and are more conforming, conventional and defensive, whereas younger siblings are more adventurous, rebellious and inclined to question the status quo. He bases this conclusion on birth-order research and on his theory that siblings jockey for niches within the family in Darwinian fashion: while firstborns defend their special status, later-borns are more open to experience because accessibility helps them maximize attention and love from their parents. Providing a detailed statistical analysis of thousands of individuals' responses to 28 scientific innovations--Darwinism, the Copernican revolution, Einstein's relativity, etc.--Sulloway concludes that most have been initiated and championed by later-borns, whereas firstborns tend to reject new ideas. He overstates his case when he interprets the French Revolution's Reign of Terror as fundamentally a battle between firstborn conservatives and later-born liberals, and his analysis of the Protestant Reformation in similar terms is debatable. And although Darwin, Voltaire, Ralph Nader and abolitionist Harriet Tubman were later-born siblings, Einstein, Freud, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Lavoisier and many other radical innovators were firstborns, casting doubt on birth-order influence. Photos. First serial to the New Yorker. (Nov.)