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Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0199737673 ISBN-10: 0199737673 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (September 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199737673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199737673
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #599,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The nature vs. nurture wars over the development of homosexuality have been pretty definitively decided in favor of nature. In this survey of what makes people gay, lesbian, bi, or straight, neuroscientist LeVay (When Science Goes Wrong) brings readers up-to-date on the current state of knowledge. Other recent books have covered much of the same territory, but LeVay's is the most comprehensive. He begins by tackling the seemingly simple question "What is sexual orientation?" As the book progresses, he discusses how gayness is not monolithic; rather, there seems to be different kinds of homosexuality. Some people claim to be able to identify gays using "gaydar," but LeVay says differences between straights and gays go beyond body language to include visuospatial abilities (e.g., lesbians, like straight men, have better spatial abilities than straight women) and verbal fluency. He reviews current thinking on the role of genes and how testosterone levels may influence the fetus's development. LeVay comes close at times to dry recitation of research results, but although the book's chief appeal probably will be to professionals dealing with these issues, other interested readers will find it an informative and generally approachable read. 20 b&w line drawings.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review


"Although the book's chief appeal probably will be to professionals dealing with these issues, other interested readers will find it an informative and generally approachable read." --Publishers Weekly


"Simon LeVay, a former Harvard neuroscientist, has written, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, a comprehensive, engaging and occasionally quite funny look at the current state of the research on the topic." --Schuyler Velasco, Salon


"This book will serve both as a resource for researchers looking for what is yet unknown and what questions need further research and as a fascinating read for the educated layperson, who will be intrigued by some of the factors that may relate to homosexuality... Recommended." -- Choice


"LeVay also does a nice job illustrating that the argument for sexual orientation as determined is not a singular cause-and-effect argument...Yet, it is important for scholars and clinicians alike across various paradigms to be aware of the research reviewed in Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why." --PsycCritiques


"Simon LeVay's book, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, offers an excellent review of scientific research on the causes and correlates of sexual orientation. It provides a clear and comprehensive summary of recent studies of sexual orientation- a review that should be useful to lay people and journalists as well as to professionals in the field. LeVay has a knack for describing complicated scientific topics- brain anatomy, behavior genetics, endocrinology, cognitive psychology- in straight-forward and easy-to-understand ways. He provides the reader with a good sense of where research on sexual orientation stands today, and where further research is needed." -- Richard Lippa, Sex Roles


"The theory that sexual orientation has a biological basis receives support in neuroscientist Simon LeVay's book. Relating evidence from genetics, neuroscience and developmental biology, he suggests that prenatal interactions between hormones and the developing brain influence adult sexuality." -- Nature



More About the Author

Simon LeVay is a British-born neuroscientist turned writer. He is best known for a 1991 study, published in Science, which reported on a difference in brain structure between gay and straight men. He has served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute in San Diego, but he now lives in Los Angeles. Among his 12 published books are several on sex, including a college textbook titled Human Sexuality (now in its fourth edition), and Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation. His most recent book is a historical novel, The Donation of Constantine. Once a fanatical bicycle racer, LeVay continues to ride his bicycle, though at a more sober pace. He is intolerant of creationists, lactose, and staying indoors.

LeVay writes: "In the early 1960s, as a teenager, I was arrested and jailed briefly, along with the renowned 90-year-old philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell. (The occasion was an anti-war demonstration.) This lead to my reading Russell's History of Western Philosophy. Only one paragraph in that long book stuck in my memory: it dealt with the mysterious 8th-century forgery known as the Donation of Constantine. Intrigue, papal politics, winter journeys, bloody battles -- maybe even a hint of bodice-ripping! What a great topic for a novel, I thought. Fifty years later, I wrote it."

Customer Reviews

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I thank the author for a well done book, for a broad perspective, for scientific information.
Variety IS the Spice of Life
It gets a little long and technical at points, and there is perhaps not much interest in mentioning studies for which the results are not conclusive.
Elizabeth
LeVay does not mention that, on this particular issue, his position is more or less the same as that of Sigmund Freud.
David Walters

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By P. Grant on February 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the book we've been waiting for: a clear, readable, and intelligent review of the science to-date around homosexuality. Simon LeVay ran the groundbreaking study that found a correlation between body structures and sexual orientation, and although his early study was superseded by a lot of other research, he clearly remains an expert on the subject. Science has generated a lot of powerful evidence over the last few decades, reported piecemeal in the popular press, but only now has someone of Mr. LeVay's caliber pulled all this knowledge together into one place.

"Gay, Straight, and the Reasons Why" achieves two things: First, it describes the science in understandable language. Given the complexity of genetics, hormones, body structures, and sexuality, that alone is impressive. Second, he achieves the more important task of putting these studies in context, explaining the relevance of each data set in our overall understanding of the relationships between human physiology and behavior.

While religions and politicians argue endlessly about homosexuality and gay rights, those of us in the reality-based community need facts. LeVay is not claiming we now understand everything that needs knowing, he's explaining the evidence we do have. That makes this book an important, even essential, contribution to the discussion. The critic here who says this is discredited by Kinsey's research or an out of print book from 1971 is speaking from some old mindset that doesn't apply. If you want to understand the current state of research into the genetic and physical origins of homosexuality, buy and read this book. Highest recommendation.
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31 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Patrick L. Boyle on June 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Simon LeVay is a retired scientist. He is also gay. So you can expect his approach to be rational and sympathetic toward the question of homosexuality.

I had been familiar with most of the arguments and evidence. I have had a little direct background too. I conducted experiments in 1968 as an undergraduate physiological psychology student to try to induce homosexuality in rats. I failed for reasons which I didn't understand then but LeVay's book helps explain.

LeVay's great study was twenty years ago shortly before he retired. He found that two nuclei in the hypothalamus were of different sizes in the different sexes and that the male homosexuals brains were similar to the pattern of heterosexual women. This was a big discovery at the time and it remains an important finding. This finding has been confirmed in other studies but has not had the kind of follow up that you might have expected.

That's a consistent pattern - suggestive observations but no follow up. Apparently the political climate makes homosexual studies too controversial. Gay activists in general oppose the idea that their homosexuality is a choice, but many also seem to oppose the idea that it is biological either. Some of the comments in this thread make bitter attacks on LeVay. LeVay seems to be a mild mannered, polite and reasonable person. The kind of person you might like to meet. He spent much if not most of his career studying these questions. He knows what he's talking about.

However he does leave out some issues. I expected to see some references to the work of Steve Sailor, Gregory Cochran, Henry Harpending, and Paul Ewald. None.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth on June 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book, and I would recommend to everyone I know to read it. This book is useful and important because the majority of people are at best in the dark about what it means to be gay, at worst homophobes. I did not hesitate about buying this book: I don't know any gays personally, and I've always wondered what makes someone gay. All the false and naive ideas I had (and I had more than I realized) were certainly cleared up by this book. This is important reading, because it gives the average person real evidence to combat the dangerous notions spread by homophobes. Since these false ideas and the discrimination they engender cause considerable suffering in our society today, I think it is important for people to read a book such as this one, which considers the origins of homosexuality from a scientific viewpoint. These are indeed firm arguments put forward, which are difficult to refute considering the volume of supportive data. In conclusion, one comes away from this book convinced that sexual orientation is a biologically controlled characteristic as natural as variation in eye color or height.
One would expect the author to be biased, since he quickly declares he is gay himself, but I had the overall impression that he carefully considers the available data and does not push any ideas that are not fully supported by experimental data. Since I am a scientist myself, I appreciated his cautious approach and his consideration of competing ideas.
I have a few criticisms, however: the fact that this book targets a general audience is no excuse to have omitted error bars on the figures and citations of the sample sizes. It gets a little long and technical at points, and there is perhaps not much interest in mentioning studies for which the results are not conclusive.
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