Your birth order explains a lot about you.

The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are, by Kevin Leman (Revell, 1985, 192 pp.; $10.95). Reviewed by David Neff.

Kevin Leman has a good-natured intolerance of first-born and only children: perfectionistic, on-schedule, and color-coordinated. “These Pharisees are going to eat me alive!” he says.

But a last-born like Leman can handle it. As the baby in his family he learned to be cute and to get by on charm.

Leman learned to understand people in terms of their position in their families early in his training as a psychologist. Attending a party of University of Arizona psychology grad students and faculty, he noticed one person who seemed remarkably normal. He decided to take classes from Oscar Christensen, a follower of Alfred Adler, and learned about the birth-order factor.

As Leman explains it, when every child comes into the world, he or she looks up and develops in relation to the persons on the next rung up the family ladder. First-born and only children have only their parents to observe. So they turn into little adults: often responsible and hard-working, but commonly perfectionistic and discouraged. “My first-born sister would iron the davenport if she were given the chance,” he says.

The children born next either try to copy their older siblings (and usually fail to do as well), or they choose a different and perhaps opposite course. Thus a first-born scholastic whiz can have a little brother headed for the Olympics. By the time the last child arrives, the parents are worn out—or at least more relaxed. The older children can’t figure out why the kid gets away with murder, but he does—with charm, humor, and spontaneity. The baby of the family may have a hard time learning ...

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