Origins by Annie Murphy Paul
How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives

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What makes us the
way we are? Some say it’s the genes we inherit at conception. Others are sure it’s the environment we experience in childhood. But could it be that many of our individual characteristics—our health, our intelligence, our temperaments—are influenced by the conditions we encountered before birth?

That’s the claim of an exciting and provocative field known as fetal origins. Over the past twenty years, scientists have been developing a radically new understanding of our very earliest experiences and how they exert lasting effects on us from infancy well into adulthood. Their research offers a bold new view of pregnancy as a crucial staging ground for our health, ability, and well-being throughout life.

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.

also brings to light astonishing scientific findings: how a single exposure to an environmental toxin may produce damage that is passed on to multiple generations; how conditions as varied as diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness may get their start in utero; why the womb is medicine’s latest target for the promotion of lifelong health, from preventing cancer to reducing obesity. The fetus is not an inert being, but an active and dynamic creature, responding and adapting as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will enter. The pregnant woman is not merely a source of potential harm to her fetus, as she is so often reminded, but a source of influence on her future child that is far more powerful and positive than we ever knew. And pregnancy is not a nine-month wait for the big event of birth, but a momentous period unto itself, a cradle of individual strength and wellness and a crucible of public health and social equality.

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.

About Annie Murphy Paul

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Annie Murphy Paul is a magazine journalist and book author who writes about the biological and social sciences. Born in Philadelphia, she graduated from Yale University and from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. A former senior editor at Psychology Today magazine, she was awarded the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Slate, Discover, Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other publications. She is the author of The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves. An article based on Origins was selected for inclusion in the Best American Science Writing 2009.
Published September 28, 2010 by Free Press. 322 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Nature & Wildlife, Parenting & Relationships, Science & Math, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Origins

The New York Times

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Annie Murphy Paul’s balanced, common-sense study of the emerging field of fetal origins research is structured around her own pregnancy.

Sep 30 2010 | Read Full Review of Origins: How the Nine Months ...

The Wall Street Journal

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Tobacco, heavy drinking, illegal drugs, depression: We seem to grasp that these aren't healthy for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman.

Sep 09 2010 | Read Full Review of Origins: How the Nine Months ...

Scientific American

A contributing writer for Time magazine, she writes a weekly column about learning for, and also blogs about learning at,,, and

Nov 24 2014 | Read Full Review of Origins: How the Nine Months ...

Creativity Post

Science writer Annie Murphy Paul's fresh perspective on intelligence and personality prompt a heart-to-heart about learning, intelligence assessments, growth mindsets and rethinking intelligence.

Dec 05 2014 | Read Full Review of Origins: How the Nine Months ...

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