Pleased to Meet Me by Bill Sullivan
Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426220555
Hardcover, $26, 335 pages
The Self-Help section of the bookstore is filled with books about why we do the things we do- why we eat things that are bad for us, why we are sad, why we struggle to let things go. Now Bill Sullivan, a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and professor at the Indiana School of Medicine where he studies genetics and infectious disease, has written a book, Pleased to Meet Me, a book that looks at who we are through the lens of science.
In the introduction he asks why some of like "exotic foods and fine wine" while "others want nothing more than a plain hamburger and a Bud Light". Why do some people like to travel while others are homebodies? Why do some people abuse drugs and alcohol? Why are some people fearless and others scaredy cats?
Sullivan believes that many of the answers to these questions actually lie in our individual DNA makeup. In addition to our eye color and whether we are left or right-handed, DNA can affect if we have an aversion to broccoli, how quickly we lose our temper, and even who we choose as a mate. The study of this is called epigenetics.
Beginning in the womb, choices our parents make can affect us before we are born. Studies show that exposure to nicotine can alter sperm, and even maternal stress, abuse, and poverty can create changes in a baby's DNA that can affect behavior for years afterwards.
One of Sullivan's biggest takeaways is that gut bacteria has a huge impact on our lives. There are multiple studies that show that these microbes can influence our food cravings, mood, behavior and even personality.
The other big takeaway is that mice are very important to scientists. In many of these studies, (like the ones that inject microbes from a person suffering from depression into a normally perky mouse making the mouse less active) gut bacteria makes a huge difference in the behavior of mice.
Sullivan cites dozens of scientific studies (meticulously cited in the Sources section at the end) that could seem overwheming to the casual reader, but then he balances them out with multiple pop culture references (Lady Gaga, Seinfeld, Star Wars, and Ron Swanson just to name a few) to keep everybody happy.
There are so many interesting tidbits that you could use as cocktail party conversation- the study of nursery schoolers personality traits that predicts political affiliation 20 years later, acetaminophen has been shown to decrease empathy, birds are better at multitasking than people- that I'm sure my husband was wondering what the heck I was reading as I read these aloud to him. (Why do smokers drink a lot of coffee?)
If you are curious about human behavior (and who isn't?), Pleased to Meet Me, is an interesting book about why we are who we are. I recommend it.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Bill Sullivan's tour. The rest of his stops are here: