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Book Review: Far from the Tree

by Dorrit I. Boomsma

The new book Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon, addresses the other side of the genetics coin: How do parents cope with exceptional offspring who do not share their characteristics or their disorders with their parents?

Genetics often focuses on resemblance between family members, but Solomon writes about families in which the children differ from their parents… Genetics tends to focus on clustering of traits within families, but of course genetics also predicts ‘horizontal identities’, through de novo mutations, segregation, and incomplete penetrance of genetic disorders.

One of the crucial questions in this book is to what extent parents can or should accept their children who are different, or sometimes very different. It is hard to imagine a writer other than Solomon who could be more understanding and accepting of the families he interviews and writes about. In discussing prenatal screening, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, Solomon’s extremely well-written chapters show only empathy and compassion. At the same time, he gives succinct insights into the genetics underlying the complex traits that the book focuses on, including criminality for example.

Solomon’s book is mainly based/organized around case reports in the form of lengthy interviews with patients, parents, and families, but also offers summaries of current research… [H]ighly recommended.

(To read the full review, please visit the Twin Research & Human Genetics website.)