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One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  335 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Must children born with socially challenging anatomies have their bodies changed because others cannot be expected to change their minds? One of Us views conjoined twinning and other "abnormalities" from the point of view of people living with such anatomies, and considers these issues within the larger historical context of anatomical politics. Anatomy matters, Alice Domu ...more
Paperback, 198 pages
Published October 1st 2005 by Harvard University Press (first published March 1st 2004)
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Nov 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The whole time I was reading this book I kept thinking how the author’s presentation of how the medical world deals with conjoined twins (as a disease that must be cured) should also cover the way society deals with most everything that is “different”: There is a name for every “condition” and a pill or a surgical procedure to move everything closer to a “perfect” homogenized state of normalcy. I couldn’t believe she was going to spend the whole book all concerned because surgeons wouldn’t enter ...more
May 05, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: vanessa, grace
Recommended to Jenny by: john green
Shelves: nonfiction
I liked this book, but I felt there were two issues. Though I agree with her that we should respect people with unusual anatomies to make their own decisions, I felt like I was being hit over the head with the message. Okay! I GET IT! Enough already!

Secondarily, her specialty is in intersex medical history, and that's interesting, but I didn't choose to read those books. Yet it comes up over and over again. Again, I get the similarities, but it's kind of like "this one time a band camp...."
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An interesting, eye-opening discussion on the controversial trinity of anatomy, identity and societal understanding.
This book challenges how people with typical anatomies usually see people with atypical anatomies; conjoinment, intersex, dwarfism.. et cetera. It is quite absurd to see that the "only" way "normal" people (people with typical anatomies, including, doctors and medical and legal institutions) decide to deal with "abnormal" anatomies, is to surgically normalize them and "allow them a
B Zimp
Mar 08, 2014 rated it liked it
This non-fiction work was very interesting and made me reconsider many of my pre-established viewpoints about body normalcy and how we treat mutations. The ultimate summary is that the author wants to know why we (society, medicine, etc) treat different shaped bodies as diseased specimens requiring treatment, when most of the effected individuals do not view their body as deformed or in need of alteration. [Historically conjoined twins do not want to be separated even when one dies.] The majorit ...more
Rori Rockman
Aug 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Dreger hit the trifecta here. Her book was informative, thought-provoking, and engaging. The pages are filled with anecdotes of the lives of conjoined twins throughout history, the decisions they've made and the lifestyles they've lived.

It offers up some fascinating questions of morality. My favorites were these three:
(1) Why do many people consider it wrong to exploit conjoined twins by putting them on display for their unusual bodies? Isn't that exactly what we do in the modeling industry?
Craig Rowland
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal by Alice Domurat Dreger is devoted to championing the rights of those twins whose lifestyles none of us could ever truly comprehend. Conjoined twin births are extremely rare and when the general public becomes aware of them, it is usually in a news story about a separation attempt. Dreger, in her short book, puts forth the argument against separation, where the "normal" in the title refers to living a full life while still conjoined, thank-you ...more
Jul 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Alright, so it would seem that I have a bit of a "thing" about conjoined twins. This book is a good philosophical companion book to "Mutants" by Armand Marie Leroi, in that it seeks to break apart our ideas of normal by examining our notions of what is abnormal. There's some good thoughts on a kind of prescriptivist, maybe condescending attitude that is often directed toward anyone perceived as different; even if the backdrop is one of kindness, there is still a presumption of knowing what's bes ...more
Bryn Greenwood
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a really wonderful, thought-provoking book. It will certainly expand your ideas about normalcy and individuality and physical integrity. It's possible that it will keep you up at night thinking about just how our society judges the body.
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting book about an unusual but fascinating ethical situation. She describes the lives of several pairs of conjoined twins and observes that nearly all of them didn't or don't wish to be separated. It's parents and doctors who think they must be made as close to "normal" as possible, even when it means sacrificing one twin.

She's a professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics and has written about the ethics of intersexuality, which has the same ethical problems: children
Oct 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: my better half
Even the bizarre human anomaly who is not fascinated by conjoined twins would get something out of this book. The author gets into issues of disablity rights, medical ethics, and enforced conformity from an angle that disturbed the living crap out of me.

This book didn't really open my eyes or change my mind about anything, and there's nothing shockingly new (except in the specifics of separation surgery stories) if you've given these matters any thought. However, the author really throws herself
Lesley Looper
Feb 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lesley by: Margaret
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009
I enjoyed reading this book, and learning more about the debate surrounding separating conjoined twins. It sounds like what society thinks about conjoined twins, and what healthy conjoined twins think about themselves and their connectedness, are often polar perspectives.

One smaller point of the book that I found interesting was that people in history with unusual anatomies (conjoined twins, dwarfs, ususually tall people, etc) have made money making appearances, and in some cases have been looke
Sep 11, 2011 rated it liked it
The book was full of interesting anecdotes and facts, but I felt like the author was trying to start a social movement toward rights for people with non typical anatomy. And they should have rights -- and the book prompted me to stop and think and talk about some of these concepts with my husband and others.

But I wasn't expecting the book to be a rallying cry to gather support, and the book seemed rather thin once I tried to ignore that part if it.

Feb 22, 2012 rated it liked it
It was interesting, and informative, but as several other reviewers have noted, her agenda (though important) was pushed rather heavy-handedly.
Haley Hughes
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was a challenging read for me. Not because it was difficult to parse or uninteresting, but because it literally challenged my mindset, and in many ways the information and insight I gained has changed my perspective on unusual anatomies and where and how they belong in human rights discussions.

Before I would have been much quicker to say how fundamentally unbearable conjoinedness sounds to me. But the first hand accounts concerning conjoined person's made me seriously think about how
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I will begin by commenting on the challenge academic writers have in translating academic research into an interesting and engaging book that is approachable for a broad audience. Dreger does this really well. She takes a compelling case-study looking at conjoined twins and critiques the medicalization of 'normalcy' in a deep and meaningful way. Her work touches on the bioethical nuances of how society judges what is 'normal' and how we project that idea onto others, and in this case, other indi ...more
Apr 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: medical-ethics
This book can be thought of as a medical-ethics companion to Armand Marie Leroi's Mutants and Katherine Dunn's Geek Love. People have a variety of bodies, the most unusual ones being conjoined twins, but also dwarfs, giants, intersex people etc. This book pleads to not medicalize this variety as problems in search of a surgical "normalization", which can make things worse.
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
The author holds the belief that conjoined twins and other people born with different physiologies would choose to remain as they were born. From other reading I believe many would choose separation or modifications if practical for their situation.
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Located (relatively) recent trends and (ethical, etc.) controversies in greater disability historiography. Remarkably readable.
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this as part of my research for my undergraduate dissertation, since I am looking at conjoined twins and separation surgery. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to argue before I started to read this book and it was to my great delight that Alice Dreger argued many of the things that I wish to put forward myself, and in such a clear, articulate way. So many times I found myself reading a paragraph, before nodding vigorously and writing down notes as fast as I could. She essentially argues ...more
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Review initially published on my blog, Writing by Numbers, here.

Fellow sociologists, medical ethicists, gender/identity/sexuality scholars, and prospective parents, strap on your boots! Dr. Dreger, a bioethics professor at Northwestern, studies sex anomalies, conjoined twins, science history, and scientific controversies from a patient advocate standpoint. What a cocktail of awesome!

One of Us is a succinct and potent exploration of how our culture’s obsession with standardizing anatomy produces
Eric Juneau
Feb 19, 2014 rated it liked it
The book has an axe to grind, that is true, but the subject matter is grotesquely interesting. The (lengthy) introduction promises it's going to be more of an examination of all freaks, but it really focuses on conjoined twins. Through a historical study on subjects like Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, disastrous attempts at separating twins, plus accounts from existing paired humans, Dreger is trying to say that we shouldn't try to fix what isn't broken. All these people say that the ...more
Feb 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm not going to lie. I only read this because one of my favorite authors told me to. It is not something I normally would pick up on my own. I am so glad that I did, though.

This book fascinated me. It fed my love for sociology but it also brought to light a world that I never really even thought of.

I've never met conjoined twins and they have only popped up in stories that I have read a few times in my life. As a singleton, I've never considered the options conjoined twins and their families h
Logan Hughes
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this shortly after Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, and it makes an excellent companion piece: both deal with conditions, often congenital, which fundamentally change a person's experience of life and make it different from their families of origin, and which raise questions like: under what circumstances should and shouldn't parents choose surgical options that "correct" the child's condition? To what extent is such correction actually helpful, and to wh ...more
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medical, twins
This book gives you a completely different way of looking at the topics. Conjoined twins have always been an interest of mine. I have watched the A&E show mentioned in this. Parts of this book made me mad, especially a judge ruling over the parents. The point is brought up about the effect of a conjoined losing the other. I am a twin and even losing my sister would upset me and I think would still be there if it happened in infancy. So in my opinion, it would be worse on conjoined twins. I am a ...more
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: paper-books, 2014
Dreger provides a really interesting perspective on unusual anatomies and whether they really need to be "fixed," since the bodies aren't broken, just different.
The book is a little clinical at times. I would have liked some more personal stories from the families about whom she writes, especially the Schapell twins. But it definitely makes you think and challenges traditional narratives.
I'd kind of like to see an updated version of the book (since it's now 10 years old and things ha
Nov 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Recently I've gotten back into my fascination with Conjoined Twins which began after seeing the film Twin Falls Idaho in 1998. I found this book in downtown LA at a used art bookstore. I love the book design, cover, and size. It's basically an academic thesis, with a few bw photos. Easy to read, interesting commentary on social norms, body image, and ethics. Towards the middle, to the end, I started to skim, as the book was too detailed at time as repetitive. I wanted more personal stories about ...more
Feb 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
This novel does well in educating readers in issues on what most of us think of as normal or abnormal. Too often we think of only one type of body as being fully functioning and acceptable. I like the awareness it raises that people born with conjoined siblings or intersex conditions, for that matter, can be perfectly happy with their bodies since they were born that way. Surgery is often seen as the only solution even when a fulfilling and "normal" life is possible without it. Dreger has a clea ...more
Becky Safarik
This was a valuable topic but it could have been done as an article, rather than entire book. I found that Dreger repeated herself, talking and talking some more, on a topic she'd already made her point on. I did, however, appreciate a quote by Mary Wollstonecraft she left us to contemplate at the end: "it is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world." Dreger's last line is then "let us now stop referring to children who undergo massive normalization's as 'real fighters,' and start reco ...more
Amy Alkon
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, which has mind-opening thinking on every page. Even if you think you aren't interested in conjoined twins and others born anatomically different from the masses, you will be after you read this book. There is compelling thinking that challenges our expectations and thinking on every page, but in a gentle way. The book does not preach. It investigates and takes us along with. Clear and compelling writing and thinking by Alice Domurat Dreger that opened my mind and made this boo ...more
Jacob Hale
Aug 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
In this easily readable, engaging, and humanizing book, Alice Dreger powerfully calls into question the concepts of normal and abnormal. This builds on her earlier work on intersexuality. Without being anti-medicine, she calls for greater attention to the experiences of those who historically have been put under the surgeon's knife before they are able to consent (or dissent) -- as a matter of better medicine, better social policy, and better philosophy.
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Alice Dreger is a Professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University.

"In a phrase, I do social justice work in medicine and science. I do that through my research, writing, speaking, and advocacy. . . Much of my professional energies has gone to using history to improve the medical and social treatment of people born with norm-challengi

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