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Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity 1st Edition

43 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312192396
ISBN-10: 0312192398
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Editorial Reviews Review

Bruce Bagemihl writes that Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity was a "labor of love." And indeed it must have been, since most scientists have thus far studiously avoided the topic of widespread homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom--sometimes in the face of undeniable evidence. Bagemihl begins with an overview of same-sex activity in animals, carefully defining courtship patterns, affectionate behaviors, sexual techniques, mating and pair-bonding, and same-sex parenting. He firmly dispels the prevailing notion that homosexuality is uniquely human and only occurs in "unnatural" circumstances. As far as the nature-versus-nurture argument--it's obviously both, he concludes. An overview of biologists' discomfort with their own observations of animal homosexuality over 200 years would be truly hilarious if it didn't reflect a tendency of humans (and only humans) to respond with aggression and hostility to same-sex behavior in our own species. In fact, Bagemihl reports, scientists have sometimes been afraid to report their observations for fear of recrimination from a hidebound (and homophobic) academia. Scientists' use of anthropomorphizing vocabulary such as insulting, unfortunate, and inappropriate to describe same-sex matings shows a decided lack of objectivity on the part of naturalists.

Astounding as it sounds, a number of scientists have actually argued that when a female Bonobo wraps her legs around another female ... while emitting screams of enjoyment, this is actually "greeting" behavior, or "appeasement" behavior ... almost anything, it seems, besides pleasurable sexual behavior.

Throw this book into the middle of a crowd of wildlife biologists and watch them scatter. But Bagemihl doesn't let the scientific community's discomfort deny him the opportunity to show "the love that dare not bark its name" in all its feathery, furry, toothy diversity. The second half of this hefty tome is filled with an exhaustive array of species that exhibit homosexuality, complete with photos and detailed scientific illustrations of the behaviors described. Biological Exuberance is a well-researched, thoroughly scientific, and erudite look at a purposefully neglected frontier of zoology. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

A brilliant and important exercise in exposing the limitations of received opinion, this book presents to the lay reader and specialist alike an exhaustively argued case that animals have multiple shades of sexual orientation. The book is broken into two sections, the second containing species "portraits" detailing recorded homosexual/transgendered behaviors. The main portion of the book sets out to reveal and, indeed, revel in the documented evidence to date that some 450 species engage in both sustained and occasional "gay," "lesbian" and transgendered pairing, parenting and play. Animals (both heterosexual and homosexual) also rape and divorce, commit "child" abuse and infidelity and can be lifelong celibates. Human claims to uniqueness in this arena are shown to be increasingly difficult to maintain. The overall effect is to detonate the myth that animals are solely driven by heterosexual reproductive urges, as Bagemihl, a biologist, amasses evidence with case study after case study of species ranging from whiptail lizards to bottlenose dolphins, flamingoes, vampire bats and giraffes. But his book offers more than a zoological laundry list. Biologists who have long classified these behaviors as taking place only in "abnormal" conditions or as "pseudo-copulation," "mistakes," "practicing" and domineering sexual bullying are frequently shown to be willfully ignoring behavior that does not reflect their own worldview or accepted scientific thought. What might so easily have turned into a tub-thumping activist tract hitched to the need for acceptance of homosexuality among humans is instead elevated to a hugely inclusive, celebratory biological interpretation of the world. Bagemihl convincingly overturns previous inviolable "truths" that scarcity and functionality are the prime agents of biological change, and advances instead the idea that abundance and extravagance?"biological exuberance"?are just as crucial to the mosaic of life. Numerous illustrations by John Megahan.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (January 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312192398
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312192396
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #792,772 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

125 of 135 people found the following review helpful By Duane Williams on February 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first part of the book is an independent 262 page exposition of homosexual, bisexual and transgendered animal sexuality. If you want to know what the birds and the bees are doing when Jerry Falwell isn't looking, this is the place to find out. Don't expect to find traditional family values in these pages. What you will discover instead is that animals aren't doing it for Darwin, they are doing it for fun. There are amazingly detailed descriptions, pictures and illustrations here of animals having all kinds of sex (that will amaze you), and most of it isn't for procreation.
More interesting to me, though, is the speculation on the sexual origins of language and culture in chapter 2 and the devastating examination in chapter 3 of bigotry in the biological sciences in over two hundred years of observations of animal homosexuality. Bagemihl shows, for example, that in science as in society, there's a presumption of heterosexuality. Field researchers have commonly assumed, with no independent verification, that whenever they see a pair of animals engaging in what appears to be sexual behavior they are observing a male-female pair. Conversely, whenever they observe a known same-sex pair engaging in behavior that would be classified as sexual between a male and female, they classify it in some other way. This protocol largely precludes the gathering of data about animal homosexuality even when it's being observed. In some cases, though, it resulted in published studies being repudiated as much as 20 years later when it was discovered that what was presumed to be heterosexual behavior in a population was really entirely homosexual.
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62 of 72 people found the following review helpful By HCA on September 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
It was a very comprehensive listing and explanation of the various form of homosexuality, transgender, etc found in nature, though it entirely concentrated on birds and mammals. it also deals very, very well with biases, both intentional and unintentional in biological analysis and data gathering on the subject.
however, in one section, the author deals with all the many proposed 'causes' of homosexuality in nature, refuting them with examples of individual discrepancies, but then asserting that all are thus totally flawed, and there is no reason. Surely he should have realized that you cannot expect a single universal purpose across even the modest diversity of birds and mammals. I analogize it to expecting a single purpose of forelimbs. We see many applications and variations (hands, flippers, wings) and even total limblessnes, yet we do not assert them to be purposeless because one purpose cannot cover them all. It would have been far more logical to posit that homsexuality, or sexual plasticity, evolved at some point, and nature has since altered it in every species it is incorporated into, so that it's purpose in one species might be opposite that of another, or it might have no current purpose, simply tagging along as a neutral trait that offers neither benefit nor penalty until the species reaches a point where selection acts on it. I also feel that further investigation into homosexuality etc in "lower" organisms which are more instinct-driven would have added some valuable insight into this, and cannot help but wonder at their ommission.
the last section, however, was thoroughly disappointing.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Anthropology, geology, and even most all religions have all "updated" their views on the way the world works, based on our ever-unfolding knowledge and new discoveries. It's time that zoology has done the same! In Biological Exuberance, Bruce Bagemihl exposes the data that cries out for a new acceptance and understanding of animal behavior.
In the first part of the text, he systematically builds a case for "updating" our views. He explains why we can no longer continue believing that the very core of animal nature is based on scarcity and reproduction. By compiling the reports written by hundreds of scientists all over the world who have been "into the field to peek under the rocks," Bagemihl demonstrates without question that we must awaken to a new set of theories about wildlife, if we are to remain honest with the facts. A most interesting portion of this work is his uncovering of several reasons why these reports have been misused, overlooked, edited for content, or simply "tucked away" over the course of history. The last section of this part of his book is a dance into "the possible," in which he eloquently proposes some modifications we ought to consider to the traditional evolutionary theory. He has titled the book after these revolutionary ideas, and declares them merely a starting point for a dialogue he hopes he has initiated.
Seemingly unending descriptions of individual animals compose the second part of the book. Bagmihl has created the world's first sourcebook for future reference on the subject. (Try asking any librarian for a book on animal sexuality! This one's the only one you'll find!
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