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Book Forum: Genetics   |    
Molecular Genetics and the Human Personality
Am J Psychiatry 2003;160:802-802. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.160.4.802
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Omaha, Neb.

Edited by Jonathan Benjamin, M.D., Richard P. Ebstein, Ph.D., and Robert H. Belmaker, M.D. Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Publishing, 2002, 378 pp., $49.00 (paper).

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This book is a serious and substantially successful effort to discuss areas of modern molecular genetics and human personality. The editors have brought together 35 contributors to create 18 chapters that begin to explore and explain this very complex topic. As one would expect, it is not an easy task to introduce the current state of genetic research as it relates to the convoluted patterns of human behavioral phenotypes.

The first chapter introduces some basic topics in genetics and the research methods involved in trying to untangle the epidemiology of complex human traits and behaviors. It is a dense chapter filled with research on the mathematical and theoretical constructs used to explore the relationships between genotypes and their expression in humans.

The second chapter explores the concepts of genetics and personality features and their relevance to psychiatry. This chapter explores aspects of normal and abnormal personality features from theoretical and clinical points of view. The author helps to undo a minor criticism I have with the title of this worthy book, which, in my mind, unintentionally tends to minimize its importance and scope. To many readers, "personality" might suggest the veneer of an individual’s uniqueness in terms of behavior, and an entire book on the genetics of personality may put off potential readers. The first two chapters, as well as others in this book, discuss behavioral traits or behavioral phenotypes as elements of personality and clarify the broader range of the editors’ efforts.

The next several chapters, all well written, seem to criss-cross through important and interesting topics in a somewhat puzzling order. The chapter on autistic phenotypes is followed by a chapter on animal models of personality, which precedes chapters that weave through the genetics of particular loci, transporter systems, and the potential roles of serotonin and dopamine in human behavior from normal to pathological.

The final third of the book is the most interesting from my point of view, with chapters on genetic aspects of cognition, aggression, and childhood temperament. All of these chapters are well written and enlightening and discuss particular behaviors as well as genetic underpinnings.

Wisely, the last few chapters of the book are devoted to dissenting opinions and discussion of the social implications of the ideas presented in the earlier chapters. The editors recognize that some of these ideas are not without controversy regarding the degree to which they have been accepted as well as their potential effects on society.

Molecular Genetics and the Human Personality is a well-written and generally well-edited book that will be of interest to clinicians in several disciplines—primarily genetics, psychology, and psychiatry. Although it may not have a place on everyone’s reading list, it remains an important book on an area of ever more important interest to physicians, scientists, and ethicists.




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