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Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Paperback – April 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


“A fascinating discussion about diversity in gender and sexuality in [the] living world.”
(Evelyne Bremond-Hoslet Mammalia 2011-01-01)

From the Inside Flap

"Evolution's Rainbow is an expansively creative challenge to the modern orthodoxies of sexual selection. Roughgarden's intellectual generosity may jump-start the careers of a new generation of diversity-affirming Darwinian scientists."—Patricia Adair Gowaty, author of Feminism and Evolutionary Biology

"An entrancing tale of sexual ambiguity in animals and people, but also that rarest of literary beasts—a science book written from the heart."—Steve Jones, author of Darwin's Ghost

"A thoughtful and scholarly, yet deeply personal, perspective from a brilliant theoretical biologist. This articulate and provocative disquisition is must reading for anyone fascinated by one of the most important contemporary social challenges."—Simon Levin, author of Fragile Dominion

"This book challenges not only the assumptions about male-female differences in behavior and homosexual-heterosexual differences, but also the very meanings of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’ in physical and biological terms. Roughgarden builds a strong case for biological diversity related to what humans call sex, gender, and sexuality."—Bonnie Spanier, author of Im/partial Science: Gender Ideology in Molecular Biology

"Joan Roughgarden asks, and indeed tries to answer, all the big questions about sexual diversity among humans and animals. She takes her readers on a wonderful journey through ecology and evolution and is a brilliant and talented narrator. Evolution's Rainbow will fundamentally change many ongoing conversations on sexuality and science."—Judith Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity

"Every now and then science focuses on a subject that matters. Gender and gender differences matter to us social primates. And we will judge, condemn, restrict or incarcerate people based on our notions of biologically normal variability in gender and sexuality. Thus, it is immensely important when a book comes along, written clearly and authoritatively by an eminent scientist, that demonstrates how wrong most people’s ideas are about this subject. This is such a book."—Robert Sapolsky, author of A Primate’s Memoir

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 474 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition, With a New Preface edition (April 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520260120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520260122
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #580,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on June 22, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an exhilarating and yet strange book, written by a passionate and highly talented scientist. The book is exhilarating because it weaves personal experience and academic research into a highly politicized plea for tolerance of, indeed affection for, diversity of sexual expression. The book is strange because the object of attack, Darwinian sexual selection theory, is not a real political enemy at all. I dare say that a huge majority of evolutionary biologists both accept Darwin's theory in some form, yet also accept homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and sex change (Roughgarden reports elsewhere that when she went to Condoleezza Rice, Provost at her home institution, Stanford University, to ask if she could keep her job as tenured professor after she had a sex change operation, Rice was totally supportive). Conversely, those who are intolerant of sexual diversity are most likely to be Creationists for whom Darwinism is as close to the Devil as homosexuality. Roughgarden, it is clear, chooses her battles emotionally, not strategically.

Roughgarden rejects Darwin's theory of sexual selection because (a) it is incorrect, and (b) it perpetrates intolerance of human sexual diversity. It is wrong because it portrays sex in animals as highly uniform, with females investing heavily in each gamete (eggs are very large) and being coy and conservative concerning mating, and males being promiscuous and investing very little in gametes (sperm being exceedingly tiny). It is perpetrates intolerance because it promotes the myth that divergence from the sexual stereotype is abnormal and pathological.

Roughgarden has been accused of committing the "naturalistic fallacy," which says that "was is, is good.
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71 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Peter McCluskey on September 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book provides some good descriptions of sexual and gender diversity in nature and in a variety of human cultures, and makes a number of valid criticisms of biases against diversity in the scientific community and in society at large.

Many of her attempts to criticize sexual selection theory are plausible criticisms of beliefs that don't have much connection to sexual selection theory (e.g. the belief that all sexually reproducing organisms fall into one of two gender stereotypes).

Her more direct attacks on the theory amount to claiming that "almost all diversity is good" and ignoring the arguments of sexual selection theorists who describe traits that appear to indicate reduced evolutionary fitness (see Geoffrey Miller's book The Mating Mind). She practically defines genetic defects out of existence. She tries to imply that biologists agree on her criteria for a "genetic defect", but her criteria require that a "trait be deleterious under all conditions" (I suspect most biologists would say "average" instead of "all"), and that it reduce fitness by at least 5 percent.

Her "alternative" theory, social selection, may have some value as a supplement to sexual selection theory, but I see no sign that it explains enough to replace sexual selection theory.

She sometimes talks as if she were trying to explain the evolution of homosexuality, but when doing so she is referring to bisexuality, and doesn't attempt to explain why an animal would be exclusively homosexual.

Her obsession with discrediting sexual selection comes from an exaggerated fear that the theory implies that most diversity is bad.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on June 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Joan Roughgarden's book "Evolution's Rainbow" is something of a disappointment.

It's badly edited, written in colloquial language, and covers a lot of topics not really relevant to the subject (such as Bible interpretation). There are other problems as well. The author protests strongly against expressions such as "transvestite snake", but has no problem calling male bighorn sheep "gay"! Of course, snakes are no more into transvestism than sheep are into the California gay subculture... (I think - I admit that the world would have been a more interesting place, had they been so.) On a somewhat stranger note, I noticed the author's strong aversion to asexually reproducing organisms. Aren't they a legitimate part of the rainbow?

This is all very unfortunate, since Roughgarden does mention many salient facts and makes interesting criticisms of the current paradigms.

One controversial point is her claim that "gender" is a biological category among humans. People who are transgendered really were "born that way". The usual position among anthropologists is, of course, that gender is a socially constructed category. Since Roughgarden believes otherwise, she can compare gender among humans with gender among animals and plants (a biological category).

In her polemic against androcentric sociobiology and its theory of "parental investment" (which supposedly makes Mother Nature patriarchal and sexist), the author points out that there are pipefish in the North Sea that reverse the sociobiological scenario. Among these fish, the *males* make the largest parental investment, while the females are aggressive, fight over the males and form dominance hierarchies. Ah, poor sociobiologists!
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