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Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women Paperback – July 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (July 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140263489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140263480
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.4 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #449,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For centuries, links between biology and behavior have been mined for ammunition in the gender wars. Western science has often tainted the discussion by skewing the norm toward men so that the biological underpinnings of their weaknesses and strengths are applauded while those of women are denigrated. Sex on the Brain is a chatty, fairly evenhanded report on a broad range of animal and human studies intended to provide insight into hot-button issues such as aggression, nurturing behavior, infidelity, homosexuality, hormonal drives, and sexual signals. According to one researcher, "We inherit the behavior essentially of our past." Morning sickness, for example, which steers some women away from strong tastes and smells, may once have protected babes in utero from toxic items. Infidelity is a way for men to ensure genetic immortality. Interestingly, when we deliberately change sex-role behavior--say men become more nurturing or women more aggressive--our hormones and even our brains respond by changing, too. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Blum (The Monkey Wars, LJ 10/1/94) covers a lot of ground here: the origins of sex, differences in male and female brains, hormones and emotions, monogamy, sexual orientation, love, rape, and power. Her understanding of the scientific literature relating to gender biology appears to be thorough, but her pattern of citing information is uneven. Often, she merely refers to newspaper articles she has written and not to the primary literature, although she quotes liberally from conversations with many scientists. In addition, Blum's writing style is too cozy and loose for this reviewer's taste; distracting parenthetical thoughts?e.g., "variation in these estimates of the relationship between nature and nurture (as if that weren't nature, too)"?combine with a lack of focus to divert attention from the subject matter and make reading slow-going. Still, science collecions that have her other books may want to consider.?Constance A. Rinaldo, Dartmouth Coll. Lib., Hanover, N.H.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Deborah Blum has always considered herself a southerner, although she has no real Southern accent and was born in Illinois (Urbana, 1954). Still, her parents moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana when she was two, and to Athens, Georgia, when she was twelve. And she has always believed that the Southern culture of story-telling had a real influence on the way she uses narrative in writing about science.
After high school, Blum received a journalism degree from the University of Georgia in 1976, with a double minor in anthropology and political science. She worked for two newspapers in Georgia and one in Florida (St. Petersburg Times) before deciding to become a science writer and going to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A University of Wisconsin fellow, she received her degree in 1982 and moved to California to work for McClatchy newspapers, first in Fresno and then in Sacramento. During her 13 years, at The Sacramento Bee, she won numerous awards for her work, culminating in the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for a series investigating ethical issues in primate research.
The series became her first book, The Monkey Wars (Oxford, 1994), which was named a Library Journal Best Sci-Tech book of the year. Three years later, she published Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women (Viking, 1997), which was named a New York Times Notable Book. Her 2002 book, Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection, (Perseus Books) was a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She followed that with Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death (Penguin Press, 2006). Her latest book, The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, will be published in February 2010.
Blum is also the co-editor of a widely used guide to science writing, A Field Guide for Science Writers (Oxford, 2006). She is currently the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she teaches science journalism, creative-non-fiction, magazine writing and investigative reporting. A past-president of the National Association of Science Writers, she currently serves as the North American board member to the World Federation of Science Journalists. She also sits on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and on the board of trustees for the Society for Society and the Public.

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Whiteman on July 13, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If the material in this book had been approached with a dogmatic view of gender politics this could have been a miserable read. The author's sense of humor about gender issues was refreshing and seemed to allow her to approach the sometimes controversial issues with an unbiased attitude. The chapters on hormones were very interesting, and the stories of children chasing the family cat with a toothbrush turned into a toy gun were quite funny. A lot of thought provoking material is compiled from scientific studies done around the world.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
How refreshing to read a thoughtful, well-researched and documented book on gender differences -- and not fall asleep in the process!Deborah Blum's many gifts include her ability to report on complex and controversial subjects and make them understandable to the rest of us. This book explores many fascinating theories with a rare perspective. It is intelligently written with an added dose of humor and humanity. This is a sensible book on behavior and biology that forces the reader to think. I recommend it highly.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By James Mcmurrin on June 25, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Deborah Blum was "raised in one of those university-based, liberal-elite families" and as such, was raised to believe that there were no differences between men and women. It wasn't until she had her own career, a husband, and two boys that she actually realized there were basic biological differences between male and female behaviour. Her son was playing dinosaur and "I looked down at him one day as he was snarling around my feet and doing his toddler best to gnaw off my right leg, and I thought, This is not a girl thing-- this goes deeper than culture."

So begins her book. Much of the evidence that is presented is done as studies of sex in other animals (the birds and the monkeys- yes, literally) and her lines of reasoning as to "how this happened" are based along lines of possible biological evolutional forces- things that she admits are really little more than educated guesses dressed up as theories.

The chapter on the differences between male and female brains was interesting in that she spent about 90% of the time either denying the validity of the studies or minimizing the verified physical results. (Sure, that spot is bigger, but we don't know that it does anything.)

Occasionally, you come across a gem of the absurd. This one is a good example:

"One leading French scientist of the nineteenth century sought to prove the existence and potency of this magical male stuff [testosterone] by injecting himself with pureed dog testes. He insisted that the extract boosted his energy and sex drive and enabled him to pee in a higher arc, a major issue for men, obviously, in contrast to women." (pg.
Read more ›
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By "alexslewis" on June 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
At last! A book which evaluates some of the bases for the pronounced differences in behavioral physiology, and biochemistry of females and males. Blum touches on a minefield of emotional subjects and what emerges is a sensitive treatment of the sexes in terms of the underlying biochemical forces that ultimately shape men and women as the human beings that we recognize.
Males are targeted by the hormone testosterone which, from early uterine development, drives them relentlessly towards a variety of behaviors some of which are categorized "as boys will be boys".
As Blum emphasizes, testosterone levels (of testicular origin) fluctuate daily, and generalizations about its role vs concentration are difficult to support. Furthermore, females also make testosterone (adrenals and ovaries) and of great significance, the female brain converts testosterone to estradiol, the female hormone. Thus, the author reminds us that sex hormones, which we casually identify with one sex or another, are capable of rapid transformations with considerable implications.
The book is a remarkable journey along a road that has a plethora of gender intersects. As human beings, curious about who we are and what forces put us there, this book is a fascinating guide.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
I would agree with some of the points made in previous reviews, the chatty style can be irritating when you just want the information. That, however, is probably a lot to do with my gender bias, I am a male scientist and I like cold facts so bear that in mind. Having said that the book does deride male qualities which, as a male (Maxim reader) I found annoying.
But don't let any of those comments put you off of reading the book, it has some very well researched points and from a research point of view it will be a valuable asset for me. I actually got the book from a library and read it and I am now going to buy it so I can refer to it when I need it. That must be a good recommendation I suppose!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dana L. Kuehn on June 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this book both easily readable and filled with valuable information. Ms. Blum's ability to weave stories into the scientific data allows the reader to relate the information presented to real life. I have found I remember parts of this book very clearly and have enjoyed sharing with others what is a very universal topic- male and female gender differences with a bite of science. The studies she references are fascinating...I appreciate the backbone of science as opposed to speculation or opinion, which describes much of the literature on this topic. A book well worth seeking out and reading.
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