Selected work

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Recents and Favorites

The Touch of Madness, Pacific Standard, Oct 1, 2017.  What if we listened to what it feels like to be mad, instead of telling people their experiences are just sound and fury meaning nothing? So asks Nev Jones, a brilliant young scholar whose life and future unraveled when she became psychotic in the first year of her doctoral program in philosophy. From that pit of despair and delusion she emerged to tell a story of how culture shapes madness — and become a powerful, extraordinarily articulate advocate for changing how we all view the mad.

A Sane Person’s Privacy Nightmare. Slate, Sept 25, 2017. On the potential privacy nightmare posed by the emerging healthcare sector that wants to use data gathered from smartphone use to spot mental-health crises early and intervene before they get bad. The idea has huge potential for good — and for privacy disasters that could make the recent Equifax leaks look minor.

Survival of the Prettiest. New York Times Sunday Book Review, Sept 18, 2017.  I review five new books on Charles Darwin, including one on coral reefs and — most prominently and at greatest length — ornithologist Richard Prum’s The Evolution of Beauty, which I found a rich, riveting, and wonderfully funny book, “both seductive and mutinous.”

What My Uncle, A Fighter Pilot, Might Have Thought of McCain’s “No” Moment. Slate, July 31, 2017. John McCain’s Yes-No hero drama on the ACA was less heroic than cruel. I suggest another script for his next act.

The Smartphone Psychiatrist – The Atlantic, July/August 2017. Why Tom Insel quit the most powerful position in psychiatry — the directorship of the National Institute of Health — to try the smartphone as a way to bring mental-health care into the 21st century.

Why There’s New Hope About Ending Blindness – National GeographicMy September 2016 cover story on four experiments attempting to cure blindness.

The most terrifying childhood condition you’ve never heard of.  Spectrum, July 6, 2016.  A story of regression, mystery, and love.

Beautiful Brains: How adolescence, astonishingly, is actually an adaptive thing. National Geographic, November 2011.

The Fault in Our DNA, The New York Times Book Review, 10 July 2014.  My review of Nicholas Wade’s “deeply flawed, deceptive and dangerous book,” A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, and Sharon Moalem’s much more constructive and entertaining look at rare genetic condictions, Inheritance: How Our Genes Changes Our Lives and Our Lives Change Our Genes.

The F.D.A. vs. Personal Genetic Testing. The New Yorker, 27 Nov 2013. How 23andMe came a cropper.

Play That F**king Little Sixteenth NoteNeuron Culture. The best thing I ever learned from a teacher.

Genetics: The Rite Of Passage. Slate, 27 October 2013On the humbling of genetics, and how the field is like Michelangelo’s David.

The Social Life of Genes, Pacific Standard, Sept 2013. Our genomes, it appears, react with particular sensitivity to social experience, and for good reason. Winner of the 2014 AAAS/Kavli Award in Magazine Writing. Selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2015.

Clues in the Cycle of Suicide, New York Times, 24 June 2013. It may seem perverse that the period of spring and early summer should contain what Kay Redfield Jamison calls “a capacity for self-murder that winter less often has.” Yet it does.

Restless Genes, National Geographic (cover story), January 2013. How genes, culture, and time made us explorers. Selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2014.

The Beauty of the Teenage Brain, National Geographic (cover story), September 2012.  Believe it or not, adolescence is adaptive. Selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2013.

A Depression Switch?, New York Times Magazine – An experimental brain surgery works remarkably well, raising questions about the nature of depression. Selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2007.

Buried Answers  New York Times Magazine. The autopsy’s death is killing us. Selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing. 2006.

The Gregarious BrainNew York Times Magazine.  A simple genetic deletion reveals much about the nature of human sociability.

 

Other Favorites

Christine Kenneally’s “Invisible History of the Human Race”,  Cover review, New York Times Sunday Book Review, 16 Oct 2014.

Having hounded the researcher mercilessly, the activists attacked Dreger too. The bad news is that this was hard on ­Dreger. (More on that momentarily. For now, I’ll just note they called her son a “womb turd.”) The good news is that from this mess emerged not only a sharp, disruptive scholar but this smart, delightful book.

Terrible Twos Who Stay Terrible, New York Times, 16 Dec 2013.  “Dangerous criminals don’t turn violent. They just stay that way.”

If Intelligence Is the Norm, Stupidity Gets More Interesting, New York Times.  Maybe we should stop thinking about the genetics of intelligence, and think about the genetics of stupidity instead.]

David Dobbs on science writing: ‘hunt down jargon and kill it’, The Guardian, 19 April 2013. On writing.

The F.D.A. vs. Personal Genetic TestingThe New Yorker online, 27 Nov 2013. How 23andMe came a cropper.

Why Autopsy Gandolfini? Death Is Certain; Its Cause Is Not, Nautilus, 21 June 2013. Why would you autopsy someone when you know how they died? Because there’s a good chance you don’t.

Kill Whitey. It’s the Right Thing to Do, WIRED, 15 Sept 2010. What’s the least evil choice: To kill a guy named Tyrone Payton to save the lives of the New York Philharmonic, or to kill a guy named Chip Ellsworth III to save the lives of the Harlem Jazz Orchestra?

How Play Made Us Great, New York Times, 22 April 2013.

Social Environment Steers the Effects of Trauma, New York Times. Maybe the ‘trauma’ in ‘traumatic event’ is not the event, but the social response to it.

A Musician Who Performs With a Scalpel, New York Times. A musical surgeon tries soothing post-surgical pain with Mozart. It works.

Trial and Error: On the Fallibility of Science, New York Times Magazine.  Most new scientific findings are wrong. What this means.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. In My Mother’s Lover you state that over 20,000 marines died taking Iwo Jima. No doubt others have written to inform you that the total US dead were around 6,800 and that dead and wounded were over 20,000. I really enjoyed this story. Thank you for sharing it with the world.

    1. Ben,

      Thanks for this correction. The Atavist forwarded me your email as well, and we are posting a correction soon. Near as I can make out, somewhere in the path from research to publication I transformed 20,000 casualties to 20,000 fatalities. We’re correcting the story to reflect that the Battle of Iwo Jima killed almost 7,000 U.S. soldiers and some 19,000 Japanese defenders. A huge loss, a small part, alas, of the savage war in the Pacific.

      Thanks very much for the correction, and I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

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