On Our Shelves Now
A Belletrist Book Pick for December 2023
Lab Girl meets Brain on Fire in this provocative and poignant memoir delving into a woman's formative experiences as a veritable "lab rat" in a lifelong psychological study, and her pursuit to reclaim autonomy and her identity as a adult.
What if your parents turn you into a human lab rat when you’re a child? Will that change the story of your life? Will that change who you are?
When Susannah Breslin is a toddler, her parents enroll her in an exclusive laboratory preschool at the University of California, Berkeley, where she becomes one of over a hundred children who are research subjects in an unprecedented thirty-year study of personality development that predicts who she and her cohort will grow up to be. Decades later, trapped in what she feels is an abusive marriage and battling breast cancer, she starts to wonder how growing up under a microscope shaped her identity and life choices. Already a successful journalist, she makes her own curious history the subject of her next investigation. From experiment rooms with one-way mirrors, to children’s puzzles with no solutions, to condemned basement laboratories, her life-changing journey uncovers the long-buried secrets hidden behind the renowned study. The question at the gnarled heart of her quest: Did the study know her better than she knew herself?
At once bravely honest and sharply witty, Data Baby is a compelling and provocative account of a woman’s quest to find her true self, and an unblinking exploration of why we turn out as we do. Few people in all of history have been studied from such a young age and for as long as this author, but the message of her book is universal. In an era when so many of us are looking to technology to tell us who to be, it’s up to us to discover who we actually are.
About the Author
Susannah Breslin is a freelance journalist and a Forbes.com senior contributor. From 2018 to 2019, she was the Lawrence Grauman Jr. Post-graduate Fellow at U.C. Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program. Her reporting and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, Harper’s Bazaar, The Daily Beast, Salon, Newsweek, The Guardian, and Variety, among other media outlets. She holds a B.A. in English from U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. from the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
“Fascinating . . . Unpicking thorny questions about determinism and the ethics of human experimentation, Breslin attacks her subject with verve and wit, resisting woe-is-me solipsism without defanging her critiques of the study that rocked her life. It’s gripping stuff.”—Publishers Weekly (Starred)
“As she examines the dark side of experimentation on human subjects, Breslin also asks disturbing questions about the consequences modern data-gathering will have on future generations. An intelligently provocative memoir and investigation.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A thought-provoking, ridiculously propulsive book.”—Glober & Mail
“Data Baby is the riveting story of a long-term psychological study and its impact on Breslin’s life, a compelling story in itself. An utterly fascinating read.”—Elizabeth Crane, author of This Story Will Change: After the Happily Ever After
“Breslin's compelling memoir reminds us that psych data are made of people. Data Baby also brilliantly highlights how the making of data shapes the stories of the people being observed.”—danah boyd, author of It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens