Origins: How The Nine Months Before Birth Shape The Rest of Our Lives

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 5, 2010 11:22 am

Picture 6For day 2 of Book Week, I’m highlighting Annie Murphy Paul’s eye-opening Origins: How The Nine Months Before Birth Shape The Rest of Our Lives. You’ve likely already seen this one on the cover of TIME, last weekend’s New York Times Book Review, or television.

How much does an expectant mother’s health and experiences during pregnancy influence her child through adulthood? A LOT! Paul explores factors like weight gain, stress, diet, disease resistance, environmental toxins, and more delving into the science behind how our months in the womb influence our lives:

Author and journalist Annie Murphy Paul ventures into the laboratories of fetal researchers, interviews experts from around the world, and delves into the rich history of ideas about how we’re shaped before birth. She discovers dramatic stories: how individuals gestated during the Nazi siege of Holland in World War II are still feeling its consequences decades later; how pregnant women who experienced the 9/11 attacks passed their trauma on to their offspring in the womb; how a lab accident led to the discovery of a common household chemical that can harm the developing fetus; how the study of a century-old flu pandemic reveals the high personal and societal costs of poor prenatal experience…With the intimacy of a personal memoir and the sweep of a scientific revolution, Origins presents a stunning new vision of our beginnings that will change the way you think about yourself, your children, and human nature itself.

While you may already have heard of some of the studies included, never before have they been compiled this comprehensive manner illustrating how they are related. Admittedly, Origins may make a few expectant mothers (my friends among them) extremely cautious–but that’s not a bad thing. Paul seamlessly combines the latest prenatal research with a compelling and relatable narrative that makes for excellent science writing and reading.

Learn more about this fascinating book at the Origins website.


Comments (3)

  1. Matthew

    This sort of thing sets my skeptic alarm ringing like crazy.

    This sounds very unscientific:

    “She discovers dramatic stories: how individuals gestated during the Nazi siege of Holland in World War II are still feeling its consequences decades later; how pregnant women who experienced the 9/11 attacks passed their trauma on to their offspring in the womb;”

  2. Colugo

    What we biological anthropologists and those in related fields interested in fetal origins back in the 90s called ‘developmental programming’ or more rarely Barkerology (after David Barker) has finally entered the mainstream consciousness. This particular book appears to be a responsible, well-informed introduction of that area of research for nonspecialist readers. Next will be the hype-mongering pop culture treatments, and after that the junk science cash-ins.

  3. I find her work absolutely on target; personally I have researched the SAME subject
    for over 20 years. Connecting the disciplines of physics, geophysics of vibrations and the
    fact that watermolecules have a memory; homeopathy is based on this fact. Furthermore the research of DR. MASARU EMOTO, has visually presented the fact how water can retain information, “Messags From Water”. The book “What Was Your Mother Thinking” also ads the energy and healing of humans and animals. When we have a bad day at the Office, our children and animals can ‘FEEL’ it. Transplants (of organs) also carry the information of the donor to the recipient. ‘ Bravo’ great piece of work; the human beings of this planet need to be better stuarts of their bodies, communities and planet. The traumas of Human Trafficking and surgical abuse ( in Africa) is passed on to future generations…..


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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