Author Jeffrey Kluger examines the significance of sibling relationships in his enlightening new book.Jeffrey Kluger begins his look at sibling relationships not with a study or a statistic, but with a telling story: When Kluger was 6, he and his two older brothers closed their youngest brother, 4-year-old Bruce, in the fuse box.
In The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us (Riverhead, $27), Kluger, a science writer for Time, explains that the power of sibling relationships was sidelined for years as scientists focused on the impact of parents. Then, about 15 years ago, he says, “the dam finally broke,” and now studies of birth order and other sibling-related issues have stepped to the forefront.
Anyone who has siblings or children will nod in recognition at many of the findings summarized in the book, which is a mix of social science and autobiography. Are you surprised to find out, for instance, that siblings between the ages of 2 and 4 fight an average of 6.3 times per hour? Or that “the most common casus belli among siblings is property”?
Kluger successfully relays the scientific research in a way laypeople can understand, using an informal tone littered with analogies and supporting anecdotes from famous sibs (Jake Gyllenhaal recalls older sister Maggie performing the musical Cats for their parents and making him lick milk from a bowl while she sang) as well as their noncelebrity counterparts. Yet Kluger’s greatest strength turns out to be not his scientific acumen but his personal story. His life, he writes, has been “a decades-long tour of the sibling experience,” as he has had full-, half- and stepsiblings, and he’s now parenting two daughters himself.
Though Kluger’s past is not particularly sunny — he and his brothers shoved Bruce into that fuse box not out of cruelty but to protect him from their mercurial father — Kluger approaches it with an even hand, twisting neither the research nor his experiences to line up perfectly. The resulting book supports the thesis that siblings are important because they serve as “our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and our cautionary tales.” It also illustrates why, in Kluger’s case and in many others, we’re lucky to have them.