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Extended Book Review.

Bruce D. Perry, MD & PhD, Maia Szalavitz, Journalist specialist in science and Health.

Perry was trained in the psychoanalytic school but you would never know it the way he lets his clients teach him. He readily ditches diagnoses of others if they do not seem to fit. He digs deeply into the nitty-gritty of the family and social environment that led to calls for therapy looking for the real issues and the how and when each problem child suffered trauma. He shares his insights into how brains develop in babies and children through the first three most-vulnerable years. Even mild neglect can have lasting and distorting consequences for the child if it is at all repetitious. One of his critical keys is to look at each case from the child's point of view.

The message to be taken away is that nurturing in otherwise healthy individuals can trump genetics if it is negative enough. In short, sociopaths are made, not born.

Dr Perry concludes:

"Of course, Making our world safer for our children won't be easy. Efforts to do so must address some of the largest controversies of our time: Globalization, the 'mommy wars,' economic inequality, to name just a few. And the United States has historically done little more than give lip service to children's issues, with both parties raising the banner of 'family values' while doing little to actually address the day-to-day problems affecting most parents and children. I don't have all the answers. But I do think that understanding ourselves as a social species, with a brain that evolved with certain capacities and weaknesses, a brain that becomes what it practices, will allow us at least to ask the right questions. And that is the best place to start when seeking to build a loving, caring community."

We could not agree more. He arrived at this social pointer via long experience, some of which he relates in vivid detail. Anyone hoping to reduce human violence would do well to read this thought-provoking book. We read it twice to fully absorb its vital messages. In his appendix he captures human developemnt in a most insightful way:

" As a child moves along the continuum of arousal, the part of the brain in control of his functioning shifts; the more distressed and threatened he is, the more primitive the behaviors and responses. During this state-related shift in cognition the child's sense of time is altered and the range of future planning is foreshortened. The threatened child is not thinking, (nor should it think) about months from now: she is focused on the current threat.

This has profound implications for understanding the thoughts, reactions and behavior of traumatized children. For the youth immediate reward in reinforcing delayed gratification is almost impossible. They are literally unable to consider the potential consequences of their behavior because of the physical arousal of their brains."

There is far more to all this at the nuts-and-bolts level. We suggest anyone interested, read the book and see for himself. Five stars is not enough for this book. If there is a road to peace anywhere on this earth, Perry's book is the autobahn.


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