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Agger, E.M. (1997). Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives: By Frank J. Sulloway. New York: Pantheon Books, 1996, 653 pp., $30.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 45:1295-1301.

(1997). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45:1295-1301

Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives: By Frank J. Sulloway. New York: Pantheon Books, 1996, 653 pp., $30.00.

Review by:
Eloise Moore Agger

Charles Darwin with his eldest son William, 1842 Daguerreotype courtesy of Department of Library Services, American Museum of Natural History

Frank Sulloway is a man with a mission. Psychoanalysts will admire his initiative, audacity, and industry. In Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives, he leads us by the hand on a wide-ranging, often swashbuckling, trek across history, demonstrating to us, as Dickens did to Scrooge in the tone of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the error of our ways. It is not, it would seem, our repressed or dynamic unconscious, our neurotic conflict, or narcissistic injury that drives our behavior and achievements, but our birth order, family niches, and adaptive response to a natural law whereby the fittest survive. Sulloway argues that the best way to study the determinants of personality, especially openness to radical change, is via the historical record.

Unfortunately, however, as the author suggests, real-life behaviors may be too private to study, ethically or legally, and experimental studies may not reflect reality. I would add that the dead can't change their behavior or talk back. (Even we analysts may often ignore the present, preferring to interpret the genetic past over more troubling here-and-now transactions when our patients talk back to us.) Sulloway has created a landscape in which the potential rulers and ruled struggle, often in life-or-death combat, for the finite fruits of family approval and, thus, survival.

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