Frank L. Sulloway

Born to Rebel Translated from the English (United States) by Anne Michel. Publication date : February 1, 1999

The author sets out to explain why children from the same family can be as unlike one another as children from different families. Why is it that some siblings within a family accept parental authority and others rebel? What led scientific innovators such as Copernicus and Charles Darwin to reject the accepted wisdom of their time and adopt a radically new world view? In Born to Rebel, which was highly acclaimed when it was published in the United States, Frank J. Sulloway compares families to ecosystems in which siblings must find their own specific niches when competing for parental attention and favours. He examines a large number of biographies, chosen from a variety of fields ranging from science to politics and religion. He studies Darwin’s contemporaries and their reactions to the theory of evolution, the behaviour of French Revolutionaries, aswell as religious leaders from the Reformation. Based on a wide-ranging statistical study of thousands of individuals, the author concludes that first born children are more likely to identify with authority, while younger siblings are more likely to defy it. If the order of a child’s birth within a family is such a crucial factor, family dynamics may well lie behind all major historical and cultural upheavals.

Frank J. Sulloway is a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has studied the role of family dynamics in personality development, for many years.