Lawrence Wright, an award-winning New Yorker writer, has compiled research from around the world for his latest book, Twins: And What They Tell Us About Who We Are (John Wiley & Sons, 1997). He found that while only about 1 out of 80 of us is a twin, as many as 1 out of 8 pregnancies starts out as twins. “It appears one twin dies or is absorbed by the other in the womb,” he says. “Perhaps that’s why so many of us fantasize about this relationship.” Wright shared with Mother Jones his recommended scientific reading, as well as his take on how twins have fared in popular culture.
What have you been reading lately?
I’ve been reading Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works (W.W. Norton, 1997). Pinker has the wonderful quality as a writer of posing simple questions about science and responding with clear and entertaining answers.
What publication has the best or most interesting science reporting?
For years I’ve been receiving the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report—a publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides fascinating epidemiological accounts every week. They are like little detective stories.
Which movie has a realistic depiction of twins? Which has the most inaccurate?
Everyone thinks that Twins (1988), the movie starring Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as twins, is the worst example of Hollywood dealing with twins. Actually, there are many instances in which one individual of a twin pair is larger and stronger than the other, so it’s not unbelievable that one twin could be Arnold-sized and the other Danny-sized.
The worst example I know of concerning twins relates to conjoined (or Siamese) twins. A Hollywood executive called me to ask about a project starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino as fraternal Siamese twins. “But all Siamese twins are identical,” I told her. There was a long pause. “I’ll get back to you about that,” she said. I haven’t heard back from her.