Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review: "The Sibling Effect" by Jeffrey Kluger

The Sibling Effect
Jeffrey Kluger
ISBN: 978-1-59448-831-3
September 15, 2011
Highly Recommended

How much of our psyches are influenced by our siblings?  Does birth order really matter?  Do our parents play favorites?  Jeffrey Kluger, a senior editor at Time magazine, explores these questions, and many others, in his new book.

I have to admit that I approached this book with more than just curiosity.  I have two children, who are close in age and, I can’t really imagine how their sibling experience may go.  I come from a large family—I could say that my mother had six children.  While she did have six children, it would be more accurate to say that she had five children and then another one.  And I was the other one.

I have 5 much older brothers.  My youngest older brother is 14 years older than I am and the oldest is almost 21 years older.  By the time of my earliest memory, all of my brothers were out of the house.  While two of them lived close and the others visited us at least a couple times a year, I was raised more as a single child than as the youngest of a large family.

My brothers, on the other hand, had a completely different experience.  The five of them were born within six years of each other and had the full sibling experience.  While I am close to my brothers, admittedly some more than others, my relationships with them sometimes looked more like that with uncles or cousins than with older brothers.

Jeffrey Kluger has far more personal experience with siblings.  He is the 2nd of four brothers, with a couple of step- and half-siblings thrown in.  In addition to his own experiences, he brings in both examples of other notable siblings, as well as number sociological, psychological, anthropological and biological studies.

I found Kluger’s anecdotes of his own childhood with brothers to be charming and, frequently, effective hooks for all that followed.   While much of the book refers back to the findings of various published research studies, this information is presented in a way that is easy for the non-scientific reader to digest.
I found many topics in this book interesting—both the chapters on birth order and parental favorites are influencing my current leaning towards only having two children!  I also found the chapter on sexuality, in particular the section on the current research into homosexuality fascinating.  According to the research, with Kluger himself seems to question, my youngest older brother should be playing for the other team (which, by the way, he is not!)

The only criticism I have is that, at times, the organization of the book seems a bit off.  Kluger devotes a chapter to the effects of divorce on siblings and then a chapter on the effects of remarriage and step-siblings.  However, the second of those chapters presents the theory that blood siblings will remain closer to each other than to step-siblings, and then follows that up with more scientific proof than is needed for what I would consider a no-brainer.  I think it would have been more effective to combine those two chapters and then cut out some of the science.

I also found the chapter on Singletons and Twins to be a bit awkward.  I am not sure how the two fit together—the twin experience is an enhancement of the sibling experience while being a singleton is something completely different.  While I appreciate the information on singletons, I wish there had been separate chapters on singletons and then on multiples.

I genuinely enjoyed this book—both as someone from a less common sibling family and as the mother of two siblings.  It also helped to explain some of those mysteries about my husband—also one of two siblings.  I would heartily recommend this to other readers and, as a teaser, check out Kluger’s interview with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.

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Affiliate Link: Purchase this book from Amazon.

I was given an advance review copy of this book to read and review on this blog.  I received no other compensation for this review.

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