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Eve's Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History Paperback – July 1, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0071400282 ISBN-10: 0071400281 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 1 edition (July 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0071400281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071400282
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.5 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,273,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why has misogyny been so entrenched throughout history? McElvaine, chair of history at Millsaps College, traces it to the invention of agriculture. The cultivation of crops, he says, devalued males' social role as hunters and, at the same time, gave rise to the "conception misconception," which held that males alone possessed reproductive power while females were merely empty ground in which men sowed their seed. McElvaine argues that from this essential error arose hierarchies, dualistic thinking, competition, war, slavery, racism, individualism, consumerism and, of course, sexism. This thesis is provocative but sometimes oversimplified. McElvaine (The Depression and the New Deal, etc.) is forceful in his reading of creation myths and Western religions, as well as in his discussion of male competitiveness through dominating tactics and imagery (including "mounting" a subordinate male symbolically through languageDwhich is what "fuck you" really means). But many of his secondary themes, including the meaning of the American frontier, racism, war and rape, and the compulsive sexual behavior of powerful men like JFK, need further analysis. For a book that purports to be "biohistory," this studyDwhich takes pains to avoid any hint of biological determinism in its argumentDtends to dismiss biological theories a little too easily. But these flaws don't detract significantly from the daring of McElvaine's challenging overview. Written with passion, wit and insight, this accessible book throws down the gauntlet to academics and nonspecialists alike, daring a radical rethinking of the basic "truths" on which cultures have been constructed. Agent, David Hendin.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Eve's Seed is a bestseller waiting to be discovered: a package of sex, science and species' vanity nicely wrapped in sparkling prose." -The Los Angeles Times

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Customer Reviews

Someone should tell Bill Maher about this one.
Maria Aragon
This book has been especially useful for a university paper I was working on.
This is a book meant to provoke thought and discussion.
A. Bruce Miller

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A. Bruce Miller on November 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a refreshingly ambitious book that takes on a really big issue and does it by making grand survey of Western history.   The "it" is Robert McElvaine's attempt to apply the findings of contemporary research on human evolution and the physiological differences between men and women to the writing of history.   And his focus throughout is the social relationships between men and women with an emphasis on how (in his view) much of historical civilization has been built around men's fears and the need to contain certain antisocial characteristics that evolved as particularly "masculine."
He uses the "Eve's seed" metaphor to describe how the transition from hunter-gatherer cultures to agricultural ones affected the way men saw their roles in life.   In contrast to some of the "evolutionary psychologists" he criticizes, McElvaine uses admirable balance and restraint in integrating the finds of biology and paleontology with his historical narrative.
He shows similar restraint in evaluating archaeological finds of very ancient female figurines. He discusses their implications for his theory while refuting the popular theories of prehistoric matriarchal societies and universal goddess worship.
Any book about sex differences has some intrinsic appeal.   But this one explores aspects of the topic one is not likely to hear on "Oprah!" or the "Jerry Springer Show."  His analysis sheds light on questions of community in large urban groups, our attitude toward the environment and contemporary politics.
In the book's first half, he gives special emphasis to the evolution of religious ideas and how they both reflected and influenced the relations between men and women.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on November 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
On Sunday, Novemeber 11, 2001, two months after the WTC and Pentagon disasters, the 'Washington Post' ran several articles concerning the future of Afghan women and all women living in Muslim dominated countries. One of these articles, entitled "The Birth of the Myth That Men Are Closer to God" by Robert S. McElvaine so intrigued me that I immediately ordered McElvaine's book EVE'S SEED from Amazon and read it.
I've been a feminist ever since my father told me I could not grow up and be a priest. I don't know why he said that, as I had never shown any interest in the vocation, but the mere fact that he told me I could not do something provoked me to ask why? I've been asking why ever since, and though I left organized religion behind in a cloud of dust years ago, I still question the nature of the universe and my place in it, so, "naturally" I was intrigued with McElvaine's book.
McElvaine is a historian, but he has included information from related social science fields as well as snippets of science. In fact, his book is a HUGE synopsis of LOTS of material that includes world literature and myths; literature from the American woman's movement; the Bible plus various interpretations of Jesus message; demography; anthropology; history; and psychology. At times he is overly reliant on fellow social scientists who have been somewhat discredited (Margaret Mead, Ashley Montague, Freud). However, McElvaine's summaries also include some recent material from more reputable sources.
Although the book jacket categorizes McElvaine's book as 'Science/History' I would describe it as 'Woman's Studies/History/Religion'.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bud Picas on January 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Eve's Seed is the best synthesis of these topics that I have read to date. The book falls in the category of 'revisionist' literature/history, but that terminology should be discarded because it only serves to reinforce the cultural bias so skillfully illustrated in McElvaine's book.
Another reviewer below, makes the point that the word 'biology' in the subtitle is misleading because McElvaine doesn't vigorously cite biological research in support of his arguments. Rather, the reviewer suggests that 'religion' would be a better substitute in the subtitle due to the thorough analysis religion receives. I respectfully disagree. Religion (at least the Christian incarnation of religion with which I am most familiar) is a historical phenomenon, and thus it has been documented via written records by its various practitioners since its inception. McElvaine is a historian by training and, as such, a thorough analysis of religion (via its historical writings) is warranted. As a biologist, I would have enjoyed more research and discussion regarding biological evolution, but the interpretations and analysis of human biology are sound.
With this in mind, lets return to the subtitle: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History. To replace biology with religion is a mistake that misses the thesis of the book; females and males are '...a little different (on average) and wholly equal.' McElvaine's arguments are built around this thesis. Analysis of religion represents a part of the arguments, but not the thesis. 'Hell hath no fury like a man devalued' is due to the misconception that the sexes are not equal (men are from Mars, women are from Venus - sound familiar?).
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