My expectation from “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives” was simple: Help me learn the basics of the latest scientific research on how the soon-to-be-born babies are affected by their environment, by their parents behaviors and conditions. The book satisfied this criteria more or less while disappointing in many other aspects.
First of all, I don’t know whether it was author’s general style or she was forced by her editor’s commercial pressure but frankly I’m really bored to death with so many personal details and the over-worked narrative structure of the book. Readers of The New Yorker may be buying this sort of story-telling and I’m not against a story told well, however there is neither a coherent nor a very well told story here. A 288 page book could easily be condensed into 100 or less pages without sacrificing any fact related to the prenatal development.
The author is free to want a boy as her second child but I’m still wondering what this has got to do with the topic of the book. Does the gender preference of mothers affect the children in any way? I would be more than happy if she cared to provide some research about this after every sentence in which she repeated how much she wanted a boy.
Another quite disappointing part was when she mentioned Caesarean section (C-section) only in a few sentences and simply said that this type of childbirth helped her mark her calendar exactly for the day her child will come. How convenient for a busy New York mother indeed! I was expecting at least some discussion against the C-section as well as elaborate arguments supporting it. But maybe I was asking for too much. (Funny thing is that when she writes about maternal leave she mentions a scientist that claims maternal leave “makes good economic sense, since C-sections cost more and require more recovery time for the mother.”)
The parts where author gives priority to how very young fetuses are shaped by their mother’s environment as well as shaping the mother’s biology provide lots of food for thought (and in some cases, food for thought is literally meant, the author gives examples on how famines as well as ordinary food choices affect babies long after they have been born). As long as you can supress your feelings during the sections where very irrelevant personal details and political judgments are repeated you’ll have the advantage of learning the contemporary landscape of prenatal development research from a popular science perspective.