REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Quirk: Brain Science Makes Sense of Your Peculiar Personality” by Hannah Holmes.

This is the second book I’ve read by Hannah Holmes, and as much as I enjoyed the first, I am deeply impressed by this one.

Hannah Holmes is one of those writers that writes for a popular audience but who is not content to give us information second-hand.  In this case she goes to the researcher-sources of the science she is interested in with a clear, dual purpose: to better understand her own “quirks”, and to share the information she gleans with the rest of us.

In “The Well Dressed Ape” (reviewed on this blog) I found her style breezy and pleasantly self-referential.  This book begins in that same tone but as we enter the final chapters the tone shifts ever so gradually to what I can only call “profound”.  This book made clear to me that science has advanced to a point where yet one more (of the supposedly non-overlapping) magisterium of religion is falling to it’s onslaught: in this case, consolation.

For this is a book of fascinating, relevant and, yes, consoling facts about the range of human personality.  This is no airy-fairy New Age self-help book, however.  Not at all.  It is the product of half a dozen visits and interviews with leading neuroscience researchers who have been breeding in mice (and rats, with the odd help of a Prairie Vole here and there) a range of the more common mental disorders that trouble the human mind: depression, anxiety, attachment disorder and the like.  The insight that these experiments give us into the human mind will, well, blow your mind.  (And perhaps comfort and console you a bit, as it did me).

The book’s chapters borrow their structure from a personality questionnaire, leading the reader through our current imperfectly-but-usefully-defined facets of the human personality (even this initial “definition of terms” gets a thoughtful introduction from the author).  Each chapter then describes a particular trait, explores the relevant research (on the mice bred for that trait) before delving into the expression of said trait in humans.

Following along with the human examples of differing personality types that Hannah presents from her own circle of family, pets and friends, I think any reader will find him or herself clearly identifying their own “quirks” of personality.  (In my case, it’s clear I am  one of those humans born with an “anxious” brain).  I could see myself in the stories that this book tells, and I found in them a better understanding of the neurological underpinnings of my own progression toward a more alert — but calm — human.

There is something in this book for everyone, as the entire range of human personality is treated with care.  As a bonus, you are invited to visit the author’s website to test your own personality (I did it — it’s basically the popular Myers/Briggs test).

I highly recommend this hot-off-the-press book.  It is a warm, humane and engaging adventure of a read that should do any brain some good, be it mouse or human.

t.n.s.r. bob

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