Book Review: A Dual Inheritance

Dual_Inheritance_SMDual inheritance theory (DIT) is defined at the start of the book as,

“also known as geneculture coevolution, was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to explain how human behaviour is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution.”

Jennifer Egan (author of A Visit from the Goon Squad) is quoted on the front cover of A Dual Inheritance stating, “A big, captivating sweep of a romance…a searching exploration of class and destiny in late-twentieth-century America.”


A Dual Inheritance includes four epic parts beginning in 1962 and ending in 2010. A big fat fatty of a book, it is indeed sweeping, a great generational saga, and one which had me stuck to the pages from the very beginning. I seemingly cruised effortlessly through its 472 pages in a small number of days. I loved reading about Ed, Hugh and Helen.

The story is mainly told from the perspective of Ed Cantowitz, the Jewish boy that loves the ladies and holds lofty and ambitious goals for great wealth. He is awed and dreams often of obtaining the great wealth he sees all around him at Harvard. Ed boldly approaches Hugh Shipley, the golden boy that has it all, one day on the Harvard grounds and from that point forward these two are fast and fierce friends.

What follows is 50 years of fabulous story telling.

50 years of romance, betrayal and wealth and social justice. And then there is Helen. Helen is the golden girl to Hugh’s golden boy status. Hugh has always loved Helen and their romance carries them through the whole novel. Hugh is the guy that was born with the silver-spoon in his mouth and despises it. He graduates and leaves everything and everyone behind to live in Africa and establish medical clinics. Ed graduates and with Helen’s father’s influence becomes a Wall Street financial titan. For the most part, it’s like the Three Musketeer’s- Ed, Helen and Hugh – they are always together. However, after Hugh has left for Africa and Ed has garnered his great wealth, they drift apart, and only one knows why. For many years he holds this close to his heart and never shares it with anyone. Helen remains true to Hugh and follows him to Africa, marries there and then they are on to Haiti.

Towards end I did feel that it loses some steam, or the force from reading the years between Hugh and Ed starts to peter out.  Also, Hugh seems to lose a bit of focus, or the writing of his character seems to meander. I really enjoyed the storyline following Hugh and Ed more than I did the two daughters, Rebecca and Vivi, which takes place in the last half of the book. Here it starts to meander a touch, but in the end wraps it up in a fairly good manner and the reader is not left too wanting. I understand the reason why the book turns more to Rebecca and Vivi, as Ms. Hershon seems to bring things around full circle with a little twist: the daughter of Ed has grown up in a world of great wealth and wants really nothing to do with it, is embarrassed at times by it and the daughter of Hugh has grown up following her parents from Africa to Haiti and is awed and dazzled by wealth. The opposite of Ed and Hugh and their story.

A Dual Inheritance was a fantastic read. Certainly if you love generational epics that cover class, romance, generations and friendship, this will be a most satisfying read for you. I was lost in its pages and thoroughly enjoyed every moment with Ed and Hugh. 4 – 4.5 stars.

Joanna Hershon’s website can be found hereLarge Hearted Boy also interviewed Joanna Hershon and asked her to compile a music playlist to use while reading A Dual Inheritance.  It’s fabulous and you can view that by clicking here.