From Publishers Weekly
Forbes's repetitive and disorganized treatise is pinned on a fascinating thesis: that observing the family behavior of birds, ants, pandas and a variety of other animal species can help our own species better understand sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, twin births and Down syndrome. Human behaviors may have deep evolutionary roots, he argues, and his correlations between a beetle's cannibalism of offspring and human child abuse, for example, will make readers feel queasy and engaged. But despite dozens of such intriguing associations, Forbes's work is clouded with organizational and stylistic problems. His prose ranges from insightful to incomprehensible to flippant. "I could use myself as an example (babies really should come with owner's manuals) but instead will defer to brown-headed cowbirds," he remarks in a chapter called "Parent Blame." Such twisty lines-combined with the fact that Forbes doesn't adequately defend his sociobiological approach until late in the book-detract from his arguments for the benefits of such cross-species studies. (How, for example, looking at parent-offspring conflict in birds can lead to a better understanding of morning sickness in human mothers and even to new treatments for cancer.) A shorter and more straightforward version of this volume would surely have garnered a wider audience. As it is, this one seems destined for academic libraries. 18 line illustrations.
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One of Choices Outstanding Academic Titles for 2005
"Forbes's writing is lively. . . . He explains evolutionary theory lucidly and well. . . . Forbes is good at explaining the subtlety and frequent counter-intuitiveness of current thinking on these topics."--Seamus Sweeney, Times Literary Supplement
"This absorbing read is an entertaining but sober addition to the library of anyone who is interested in family conflict and the natural world."--Biology Digest
"All will welcome [this book] as an interesting, well-researched, extraordinarily well-written, and occasionally humorous work in behavioral ecology."--Choice
"This is certainly worth reading if this is an area that you are interested in. Forbes obviously knows his subject."--Nicola Vollenhoven, Biologist
"I found much of the medical material new. A Natural History of Families
is recommended to anyone interested in evolutionary medicine, wanting a better understanding of pregnancy, or after a genetic perspective on family conflicts."--Danny Yee, Danny Reviews