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

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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

"An important and valuable study that will define research agendas for years to come. It is also hugely fun to read."
—Boston Globe

Why do people raised in the same families often differ more dramatically in personality than those from different families? What made Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, and Voltaire uniquely suited to challenge the conventional wisdom of their times? This pioneering inquiry into the significance of birth order answers both these questions with a conceptual boldness that has made critics compare it with the work of Freud and of Darwin himself.    


Frank J. Sulloway envisions families as ecosystems in which siblings compete for parental favor by occupying specialized niches.  Combing through thousands of biographies in politics, science, and religion, he demonstrates that firstborn children are more likely to identify with authority whereas their younger siblings are predisposed to rise against it. Family dynamics, Sulloway concludes, is a primary engine of historical change. Elegantly written, masterfully researched, Born to Rebel is a grand achievement that has galvanized historians and social scientists and will fascinate anyone who has ever pondered the enigma of human character.    


"Daring . . . a stunning achievement. "    

—The New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679758761
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/30/1997
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 672
  • Sales rank: 790,047
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 1.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank J. Sulloway has a Ph.D. from Harvard. He is a M.I.T. Research Scholar and also a recipient of a MacArthur 'Genius' grant. He is the author of Freud: Biologist of the Mind. He lives in Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Birth Order and Revolutionary Personality
1 Openness to Scientific Innovation 3
2 Birth Order and Scientific Revolutions 20
3 Birth Order and Personality 55
Pt. 2 All in the Family
4 Family Niches 83
5 Developmental Glitches 119
6 Gender 148
7 Temperament 172
8 Exceptions to the Rule 195
Pt. 3 Social and Political Thought
9 Social Attitudes 217
10 The Darwinian Revolution as Social History 236
11 The Protestant Reformation 255
12 Political Trends 284
13 The French Revolution 306
Pt. 4 Synthesis
14 Social and Intellectual Context 329
15 Conclusion 352
Appendix 1 A Brief Introduction to Statistics (or Correlations Made Easy) 371
Appendix 2 Coding Procedures for Variables in the Study 376
Appendix 3 Criteria for Selection of Participants in Scientific Controversies 383
Appendix 4 Expert Raters and Other Collaborators 386
Appendix 5 Techniques for Estimating Missing Data 389
Appendix 6 Data and Expert Ratings on Social Attitudes 394
Appendix 7 Modeling the Protestant Reformation 398
Appendix 8 Modeling the French Revolution 403
Appendix 9 Miscellaneous Technical Discussions 414
Appendix 10 Suggestions for Future Research 430
Appendix 11 How to Test Your Own Propensity to Rebel 440
List of Illustrations 445
List of Figures 449
List of Tables 451
Acknowledgments 452
Notes 457
Bibliography 541
Index 617
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2000

    recommended as a self-help book

    This book was valuable in understanding myself and understanding others. I had never realized that there has been an ongoing battle between firstborns and latterborns all through history. Nor had I realized that most of my disagreements have been with people who are of the opposite birth order. As a result of reading this book, I have twofold advice for anyone: 1. Don't be too hard on yourself if you clash with those of opposite birth order. It's probably not your fault. 2. Don't be too hard on the other party if you clash with those of opposite birth order. It's probably not their fault, either. I have just one criticism of the historical examples: why wasn't the protest against the Vietnam war ever mentioned?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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