Magazine January 24, 2011, Issue

Present at the Creation

A woman receives an ultrasound during a prenatal exam. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)
Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, by Annie Murphy Paul (Free Press, 320 pp., $26)

This story begins in a Tot Lot playground on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Watching her three-year-old son play, author Annie Murphy Paul wonders: “What makes you the way you are?” Every human life is unique and irreplaceable, full of wonder, beauty, and mystery; no one quite knows how we get to be who we are, but that doesn’t stop us from speculating. At the Tot Lot, Paul is told that her son has his father’s professorial temperament and his mother’s journalistic sensitivity, “as if his personality traits were lottery numbers drawn at conception.” Then there are the crucial first years

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