What makes us the way we are? Some say its the genes we inherit at conception. Others are sure it's the environment we experience in childhood. But could it be that many of our individual characteristics - our health, our intelligence, our temperaments - are influenced by the conditions we encountered before birth?
That's the claim of an exciting and provocative field known as fetal origins. Over the past 20 years, scientists have been developing a radically new understanding of our very earliest experiences and how they exert lasting effects on us from infancy well into adulthood. Their research offers a bold new view of pregnancy as a crucial staging ground for our health, ability, and well-being throughout life.
Author and journalist Annie Murphy Paul ventures into the laboratories of fetal researchers, interviews experts from around the world, and delves into the rich history of ideas about how we're shaped before birth. She discovers dramatic stories: how individuals gestated during the Nazi siege of Holland in World War II are still feeling its consequences decades later; how pregnant women who experienced the 9/11 attacks passed their trauma on to their offspring in the womb; how a lab accident led to the discovery of a common household chemical that can harm the developing fetus; how the study of a century-old flu pandemic reveals the high personal and societal costs of poor prenatal experience.
Origins also brings to light astonishing scientific findings: how a single exposure to an environmental toxin may produce damage that is passed on to multiple generations; how conditions as varied as diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness may get their start in utero; why the womb is medicine's latest target for the promotion of lifelong health, from preventing cancer to reducing obesity.
With her discovery that she was pregnant for the second time, Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and science writer, began researching and writing Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. Since her pregnancy four years previous, there had emerged the exciting research field known as “fetal origins”. Made possible by ever-developing technologies and the shifts in understanding forged by scientific studies, fetal origins represents a revolution that has been overturning common notions about prenatal medicine that were shaped by 20th-century Western science and medicine. As fetal origins began to replace the old and the flawed with new approaches based on new research findings, the movement was at the same time returning to core, fundamental, traditional beliefs held by “most peoples, in most times and places”. The movement is a return to the “widely shared understanding of the relationship between a pregnant woman and her fetus as intimate and reciprocal….The scientific and medical culture of the modern West” has been the exception.
Elisabeth Rodgers, narrating with a bright, robust, and powerfully expressive, ebullient voice, takes quick possession of Murphy Paul’s brilliantly audacious research project. Rodgers masterfully embodies the book’s authorial voice, which includes emotional richness and a good bit of wit mixed with the writer’s meticulous care and precision. Origins is largely about the potential in utero threats of pregnancy wrought by environmental factors and bad choices made by the mother-to-be. Murphy Paul does have the bono fides for the daunting task Origins represents. The authoritative voice of Jerome Groopman, MD verifies this view in his New York Times book review: “To her credit, she steers away from…sensationalism. Structuring her exploration of the subject around the nine months of her own (second) pregnancy, she provides a balanced, common-sense view of an emerging field of uncertain science.
Something more about Rodgers’ narration: she sounds pregnant. Her voice conveys that expansion of consciousness, the deep revered resonance in the belly. You can hear this in her voice. This expansion of the range of narrative mimetic empathy: there’s no narrative award category for it. But Rodgers nails it! David Chasey
“Informative and wise…. Structuring her exploration of the subject around the nine months of her own (second) pregnancy, [Paul] provides a balanced, common-sense view of an emerging field of uncertain science.” (New York Times Book Review)
“A terrific and important new book.” (Nicholas D. Kristof)
"Annie Murphy Paul, a gifted science writer, combines impeccable science, extraordinary tenderness and lyrical prose to produce a truly revolutionary chronicle of pregnancy. In Origins, she shows that pregnancy is not a condition to be endured but the first nine months of being a mother, a time full of far-reaching choices. Origins is sweet, smart and very fresh. You'll never think about pregnancy the same way again." (Sylvia Nasar, author, A Beautiful Mind)
"For the most part, [Paul] manages the very tricky act of balancing science writer - with a fair-minded attention to the ambiguities and complexities of research - and pregnant mother - with a certain tendency to lyricism, sentimentality and a wry awareness that her perspective has shifted." (Washington Post Book World)
100 Notable Books of 2010 (The New York Times)
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Narration a problem