Mini-Review of Origins by Annie Murphy Paul

15 October 2011 at 1:13 pm Leave a comment

A month or so ago I finished reading Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, by Annie Murphy Paul (Free Press, 2010). It was, overall, a worthwhile read, but I think I had higher expectations than I should have for it.

A few things I’d read, before picking up the book, mentioned that it brought an objective science journalist’s eye to the crazy media hype that tells pregnant women–in our particular culture, at this particular moment in time–to avoid foods X, Y, and Z, and to be careful of habits A, B, and C, etc. The author even states her position on this issue: After citing a number of inflammatory headlines, she writes, “Once again we’re told that pregnant women are a danger to their fetuses, each bite they take a time bomb on a fork. But there’s another way to think about eating during pregnancy: as an act of sharing, even of teaching” (21).

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t bear out this initial promise entirely, and I do feel the tension between calmness and caution, a zen approach and a Type A control-freak approach, to the various pregnancy dos and don’ts that Paul reviews. Perhaps also because the book is written with each chapter supposedly accompanying each month of the author’s second pregnancy, I found the overall organizing principle hard to discern, and that–combined with her sudden refusal to address the literature on planned c-sections, which she quickly mentions she “had” to have–made me look with skepticism on this as a whole. There were some interesting parts, of course, and most of the literature she reviews is clearly and coherently presented, but overall I’m not quite certain of the intended audience, or effect, of this book: it’s obviously not meant for a lowest-common-denominator What to Expect readership, yet I would assume that much of what it says is in fact already known to a more select group of readers.

In any case, this wasn’t a terrible read, and I’m glad I made it through to the end, but it wasn’t the best book on pregnancy that I’ve read.

–Christina

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