Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection
should be required reading for anyone who happens to be a human being. In it, Hrdy reveals the motivations behind some of our most primal and hotly contested behavioral patterns--those concerning gender roles, mate choice, sex, reproduction, and parenting--and the ideas and institutions that have grown up around them. She unblinkingly examines and illuminates such difficult subjects as control of reproductive rights, infanticide, "mother love," and maternal ambition with its ever-contested companions: child care and the limits of maternal responsibility. Without ever denying personal accountability, she points out that many of the patterns of abuse and neglect that we see in cultures around the world (including, of course, our own) are neither unpredictable nor maladaptive in evolutionary terms. "Mother" Nature, as she points out, is not particularly concerned with what we call "morality." The philosophical and political implications of our own deeply-rooted behaviors are for us to determine--which can be done all the better with the kind of understanding gleaned from this exhaustive work.
Hrdy's passion for this material is evident, and she is deeply aware of the personal stake she has here as a woman, a mother, and a professional. This highly accomplished author relies on her own extensive research background as well as the works of others in multiple disciplines (anthropology, primatology, sociobiology, psychology, and even literature). Despite the exhaustive documentation given to her conclusions (as witness the 140-plus-page notes and bibliography sections), the book unfolds in an exceptionally lucid, readable, and often humorous manner. It is a truly compelling read, highly recommended. --Katherine Ferguson
From Publishers Weekly
Our culture's exalted view of motherhood, argues sociobiologist Hrdy in this iconoclastic study, is sentimentally appealing but fails to take into account the wide range of responses that comprise maternal "instincts," including many that may seem counterintuitive to reproductive goals. Using data from her own primate research as well as new evolutionary theories, literature and folklore, Hrdy, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California-Davis, shows that animal mothers make constant "trade-offs" to negotiate conflicts between their own needs and those of their offspringAoften based on the odds of their progeny's survival. Ironically, reproductive success has exacerbated pressures on human mothers, who must often care for multiple older offspring while simultaneously accommodating newborns. To cope, they may resort to the sexual selection of offspring, the use of helpers or various levels of withdrawal from particular babies, ranging from mild neglect to abandonment to infanticide. Hrdy's engaging though repetitive argument offers provocative new analyses of wet-nursing, the culling of offspring of the "wrong" sex (sometimes, surprisingly, boys) and even the adaptive behaviors newborns use to ensure their mothers' attachment. Though she is intent on rectifying male biases in biology, Hrdy rejects strident gender politics. Ample support and access to quality day care, she concludes, are essential to achieving the ideal that every infant be loved and nurtured. Agent, Mitchell Waters, Curtis Brown Inc.; 7-city author tour. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.