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Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species Paperback – September 5, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (September 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345408934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345408938
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #270,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

I bought this book while pregnant with my daughter.
ChicagoJen
Only complaint might be that it's a dense read, and doesn't have a nice "backdrop" to organize it like Robert Wright's books (which I highly recommend).
"danthrax"
A scholarly book written in an accessible and engaging style.
Ann Sinnott

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By S. Kruger on July 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a wildlife biologist by training, I have often been leery of sociobiologists and the analogies they draw between human behavior and that of, say, ducks. With this in mind, I devoured this book until I had to return it to the library. I then haunted the library until it had gone through all 13 holds before I could get it back, several months later. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy takes a cross-cultural, historical and biological look at human and primate mothers. She makes it very clear that humans have used many, many ways to solve problems of childcare and the conflicts for resources between mothers and their infants and other older children. She uses other primate species not as proof of human ways so much as to re-evaluate and reflect on those human ways. She is a biologist, and she is very clear about not confusing what some primates do as proof for what humans do, whether closely or distantly related. "Mother Nature" gave me great insight into my relationship with my mother, my two younger brothers, my male partner, and my decision to delay reproduction. I enjoy my designation as an "allo-mother" (someone other than the mother who helps with childcare), and am pleased to learn that the level of protectiveness that I feel for the girls and young women in my Girl Scout troops have been biologically based: those who care for children, beyond the birth mothers, will have elevated levels of the hormone prolactin. I find it fascinating that my enjoyment of environmental education has a biological base!Read more ›
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Fantastic book that combines science with literature, history, HUMOR (great illustrations), personal stories, feminist critique, science critique, speculation, political polemic, and weird facts. I especially recommend the book for people interested in biology, history of humanity, feminism, and parenting. Hrdy is sure to win a major award for this book. I read every page.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Judith L. Latta on September 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The reader of Mother Nature is in for a thorough treat. In its most fundamental essentials, the game of life comes down to competitive reproduction: which individuals--which lineages--produce the most young that also survive and reproduce. Sara Hrdy presents fascinating facts relating to motherhood, many little known or appreciated, that reveals the essentials of the human struggle to produce offspring and keep them alive. How has striving for power and status by females been critical to the survival of their lineages? Why does breast-feeding prevent pregnancy sometimes but not others? What about genetic changes affecting reproductive behavior in humans? There have been roughly 400 generations of humans since the Neolithic, and it has been proven (in fish, for example) that significant evolutionary changes can occur in the DNA of a species in only 40 generations; what sorts of changes may have occurred in reproducing humans? What are the causes of infanticide, by males and mothers? By presenting the research behind such facts in roughly historical sequence and because of her personal acquaintance with many of the primary researchers and theoreticians, readers get not only answers to the questions, but a wonderful sense of how science works and a feeling for the personalities who have toiled to find the truth as opposed to myth. SEX: Is it true that "Women are from Venus. Men are from Mars?" Hrdy's brilliant synthesis of over a hundred years of primarily biological and anthropological study explains how and why this catchy generalization does capture deep truth about the sexes.Read more ›
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It's odd that some reviewers see this as an example of a feminist ignoring and bending facts to support feminist theory. I thought the author presented quite strong criticisms of feminism (for example, feminist claims that nursing is a socially constructed activity). In addition, one of the main points I took away from the book was decidedly UN-feminist: that male humans have been genetically selected to be LESS inclined to care for children than women are, because they can't be certain that any given child is really theirs. In contrast, since a woman knows that her child really is her child, she is MORE biologically inclined to care for it (depending on the circumstances, as Hrdy goes into at length). It did seem that Hrdy was herself not pleased with this conclusion, but discussed the issue at length nonetheless.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Sarah Hrdy takes pains to avoid trying to interpret the data to support ideological political or feminist views of motherhood. She is very clear that her inspiration to write the book was that her observations did not match with her prior assumptions. The result is a view of "mother nature" that will both support and undermine any existing sociological ideology. It's funny to see how politically conservative readers are ranting about the work being tainted by feminist bias. In fact, Hrdy's major success is to illustrate the extent to which previous views of motherhood have been tainted by masculinist bias and wishful thinking.
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