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Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  926 ratings  ·  182 reviews

What makes us the
w ay w e are? Some say it’s 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 kn
Kindle Edition, 322 pages
Published (first published September 28th 2010)
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The information in this book was pretty fascinating. I picked it up after listening to this story by the author on NPR a few weeks ago. Although I think the book could have been much better organized and edited to avoid excruciating repetitiveness (Dutch Hunger Winter: I'm looking at you), I enjoyed it overall.

The book details the emerging scientific research showing that the fetal period can be a powerful source of influence over who we are as people -- focusing in particular on the mother's n
Oct 18, 2010 Angela rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: micromanaging pregnant people (hi Christie)
Recommended to Angela by: nytimes review
In Origins, Paul attempts to explain how intrauterine influences - dietary, emotional, hormonal, epigenetic, etc. - affect the futures of the people fetuses become. It's an interesting premise, hinted fascinatingly at in one of my favorite environmental books, Theo Colburn's Our Stolen Future. While the research has certainly progressed in the ten years since, Paul's book still feels a bit light.

The book is nominally structured into nine month-based chapters, but these aren't used to discuss so
A book written for the masses that attempts to distill some interesting research. It has a catchy one-word title (in the vein of "Bonk") and an Upper West Side Manhattanite's perspective on her own life and pregnancy mixed in with the reporting bits (a la Michael Pollan).
So: the research is interesting, though I've seen most of it already in the science and medical news, and I find the pop-science way of describing studies distracting, since there is never quite enough information there for me
For the most part, I found this one riveting and strangely empowering. It's the total opposite of the evil "What to Expect" empire: Paul writes for smart readers, and explores ways women can potentially positively influence the adulthood of their child while it's in utero. I appreciated reading, "Eat sardines and chocolate, to maybe make your baby smarter and smile more" rather than "DON'T eat [huge list of stuff] or else your baby will be deformed." Positive suggestions and ideas always work be ...more
I thought there was interesting information in this book-- a lot of cutting edge research being done in this field, and I liked learning about the various effects of the mother's lived experience on a fetus. Unfortunately, the tone was absolutely unbearable.

First of all, I appreciate that the author gave a nod to how there is a terible cultural policing of women's bodies during pregnancy these days, and how much that bothers her. Then she tries to explain that her book is different! She's going
You know, it is hard to find relevant books when you are really interested in gestation but not at all interested in babies. I frequently find myself in conversations these days with one of my compatriots in Project Make a Baby Like a Boss that go something like, “blah something something childhood development blah, what do you think?” And I go, “not my department – hey, have you read that cool stuff about omega 3 intake in the first trimester correlated with better labor outcomes?”*

This one is
I enjoyed this book, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to all "parents-to-be". I think you have to set expectations with this book first. It's rich with information and research about the 9 month development process, but it's not a step by step guide of what to do and not to do. In addition, I think you have to realize that it's developing research, not dogma. I loved it as a reservoir of new research that shines light on how the 9 month incubation period affects the next 80 years (if we'r ...more
a really interesting & engaging (in my opinion) book about fetal origins. that is to say, how the prenatal environment affects a person after s/he is born.

the author was pregnant while writing the book, so it is split into nine chapters, each of which represents one month of gestation, from conception to birth. the chapter breaks don't really have anything to do with anything. "chapter five" didn't really have anything to do specifically with the prenatal environment in month five of human g
Kelly (TheWellReadRedhead)
As is typical of my current pregnant state, I was hot and cold with this book. It's introduced in such a way that it makes you believe you WON'T be reading a diatribe about all the terrible things that you could do during pregnancy to ruin your child. This seems to be accurate at first, but honestly, by the end of the book I just felt overwhelmed with all the potential disasters I could be inflicting upon this fetus. I know that Paul occasionally reiterates the fact that fetal origins research d ...more
If women skip breakfast, they are more likely to get pregnant with a girl? Morning sickness has been said to be a psychological response of "secretly rejecting" your baby? This book is interesting, but most points are theoretical only. I doubt the intrauterine environment is really more influential than epigenetics. So if a mother is depressed during pregnancy, are her hormones REALLY going to make the fetus more likely to develop depression later in life, or is the mother just passing on her de ...more
Well, this book certains give a pregnant woman a lot to contemplate. First my pet peev: Why does every part-memoir, part-nonfiction writer live in New York? Also, is there a new category for this type of contrived non-fiction memoir? It isn't exactly memoir since the authors know going in that they will be relating their interesting factoids to their personal experience.

Anyway, Annie Murphy Paul cites plenty of interesting studies and references to allow the book to stand on its own--without th
Asha Tenbroeke
It is always nice if an accomplished science writer takes on a subject that hasn't really been covered extensively before. Fortunately for us, that is exactly what Annie Murphy Paul does in Origins. She covers the subject of outside influences on the development of the growing foetus with ease, and even takes it one step further when she links the scientific research she encounters with her own experiences during her second pregnancy (Paul is pregnant while researching and writing the book). Thi ...more
Feb 06, 2011 Sarah rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sarah by: On Point NPR show
This book is full of fascinating facts based on research into fetal origins. Some things I found especially interesting include:

* According to some researchers, about one-third of gay men are gay because their mothers had more sons before them. The researchers hypothesize that this is because the mother's immune system manufactures antibodies directed at proteins secreted by male fetuses. When she becomes pregnant with another son, these antibodies allegedly affect the baby's developing brain in
I really wanted to like this book, and in fact, I was looking forward to reading it. I had heard of the author from her "Tiger Mother" article in Time magazine on 1/31, so when I learned about her subject expertise (fetal origins), I thought it would be a perfect "pregnancy reading" for me. I guess I just had really high expectations (and hopes).

The book, itself, is a pretty quick read. She weaves into her research tales and anecdotes of her own pregnancy (#2), which makes it a bit more "human."
If you have been pregnant recently, a fair amount of the information in this book will not be completely new-- a lot of this is what appears in the average book that you would pick up to read while preparing for pregnancy. Some of the more recent epigenetics is outside of the kind of content that those "when you're expecting" books cover. That being said, many of the examples that Paul covered are examples that I had read about in the news.

Paul weaves the scientific information in with informat
I sought this book out after reading the chapter in "YOU: Having a Baby" about fetal programming and epigenetics, which I find fascinating, especially now as I do preliminary research before preparing to get pregnant. The author compiles various studies that you may have heard about before in other books or documentaries, such as the biological effects of famines and trauma on future generations, the links between environmental toxins and various developmental disorders, how maternal bonds are f ...more
This was a good compilation of current research into prenatal experience and how those might affect the grown adults. It's by a NY Times science writer who also happened to be pregnant at the time so some of her personal story was woven in to the narrative. Here are the things I disliked: The table of contents was so vague (one month, two months,...) as to be completely useless. The subjects in each month had nothing to do with whether it was one month or seven and there was no way to even guess ...more
Paul Signorelli
Those of us fascinated by learning and how we are affected by the places where learning occurs find ourselves exploring a wonderfully unexpected learning space in Annie Murphy Paulâs "Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives": the womb. It is Paul's contention, throughout this well-researched and thought-provoking book, that we haven't given nearly enough attention to all we learn and acquire in those critical nine months before we enter the world. "Origins" is a gre ...more
April Helms
This is a fascinating (and occassionally disturbing) read for those interested in childhood development and epigenetics. The author parallels her own thoughts and experiences with her second pregnancy with the growing bodies of evidence that are showing the incredible impact of the environment, nutrition and other factors on the unborn child -- effects that can be felt and documented even decades later. Two examples that struck me:
One was a study of children and adults who were in-utero during
The positive: This book starts out with the idea that pregnant women get blamed for literally everything that ends up being wrong with their children, and that this state of affairs is both unfair and unrealistic. Which is great! The writing is generally good in that pop-science-confessional way, and this was a quick and easy read. Don't worry, the last thirty pages or so of the page count are the notes and bibliography; the book proper is right around 200 pages.

The negative: Unfortunately, afte
Lauren--this book was written by the author of the article you posted on how our brains operate on fiction. I like her so much! At one point in the book, she rereads "Brave New World" and relates it to how society currently sets the stage for social inequity starting with prenatal care. Very interesting.

Also, although there is burgeoning interest in how fetal life predisposes individuals to physical, emotional, and psychiatric wellness/illness (and the book is basically a summation of recent st
This was a very interesting account of the science surrounding how the nine months before birth impact an individual's life. The author was pregnant at the time that she wrote it, so she incorporates science with her own thoughts and musings, which makes it a little more interesting. It's definitely more in the vein of a Malcolm Gladwell book than a serious work of science, since she incorporates history, science, psychology, and social commentary, but that makes it a little more readable.

The bo
Anna Edwards
I read this book for my job and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the information and writing. This is not a book that I would have picked up on my own.

This book was written by Annie Murphy Paul as a way to understand the impact of nine months we spend in utero and to understand her own pregnancy. The book discusses the impact of fetal and maternal experience on the future health of a child.

This book also had one of the most nuanced discussions of abortion that I have seen in years. Ra
This book was great for me personally b/c I am a nerd and I liked the listings of findings from scientific studies, but the book was poorly organized and not particularly well written. I also appreciated the seemingly unintentional irony that the author describes her scheduled c-section birth at the end of the book where she admittedly feels uninvolved. After writing an entire book about how the fetus' experience during pregnancy influences the rest of its life and in light of reputable research ...more
Fabulously well-written--engaging but extremely well-researched. I read this because it sounded fascinating, but also with an environmental historian's perspective. This book should be shelved right up there with -Having Faith- as being essential reading on the environment of the womb, and the effects of toxins and other factors on humans in utero.

My one small critique of the book was the chapter titles. They're only labeled "One Month," "Two Months," etc, and while Paul roughly traces her own p
This is just about equal parts fascinating, guilt-inducing and annoying. Fascinating because there really are lots of tidbits I didn't know about. For example, pregnant mice fed junk food produce baby mice who are way more likely to prefer junk food over rat chow and eat way more calories. And most of the crack babies from the 80s are doing just fine - seems it is much worse to have an alcoholic mother than a crack-addicted one. Guilt-inducing because I didn't know some of this stuff when I was ...more
Apr 16, 2011 Kristen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kristen by: Jennifer
Interesting accessible-science read. Perhaps a few too many personal touches by the author (who was pregnant while she was researching the book), but overall a good mix of science and anecdote. There isn't a clear organization to the book, almost as if it was just written in the order that she researched it. But as it tries to prove the genre of fetal origins as a whole, it does a good job. She really delves into many different scientists work, and I was impressed by the depth and breadth of her ...more
Mar 19, 2011 Kristin rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kristin by: Gabrielle next door
An interesting overview of the emerging study of the fetal origins of adult conditions, written while the author was pregnant. When my neighbor described the book to me, I wrote it off as more post-feminist prescriptive suggestions for women, but I was (mostly) wrong. Also included some minor references to epigenetics, a field I had just heard of and want to learn more about. (It's the study of how and why certain genes are activated or deactivated.) I was disappointed in the last chapter, in wh ...more
Avi Roy
The book encouragingly begins with a whistle-stop tour of fetal development/developmental origins research. Unfortunately, it quickly turns into a melodramatic and personal narrative about motherhood. A significant chunk of the book is dedicated to historical drama and ideas regarding motherhood/pregnancy and it's impact on the child. Although, these historical detours are peppered with current data regarding environmental impacts on pregnancy and child development. All this leaves very little t ...more
Jess Hartnett
This is either a great book to read while pregnant or an awful book to read while pregnant. Essentially, the author introduces a new branch of biology that is a mix of nature and nurture. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that prenatal experiences (nurture) can impact our physiology in ways once thought to be the exclusive territory of genetics (nature). The narrarator is somewhat annoying (upper middle class New Yorker interjecting with her own experiences as a pregnant lady and mo ...more
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“The world has its way with us long before we're born.” 5 likes
“For many centuries people have believed that there is continuity between the individual in utero and the individual in the world; now there is solid evidence that this ancient belief is correct, albeit in a far more complex and nuanced way than our ancestors ever imagined.
But science can't tell us everything we need to know about this new perspective; there's always a gap where the hard evidence of the laboratory meets the soft flesh of our bodies.”
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