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Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World Hardcover – November 10, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 457 pages
  • Publisher: BenBella Books (November 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933771577
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933771571
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #642,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Potts and Hayden make an important contribution as they explore our evolutionary origins and make suggestions as to how human society might reduce warfare in the future."  —Jane Goodall, primatologist and environmental activist

"Will transform your outlook on war, peace, and what needs to be done to secure a safer world."  —Sean B. Carroll, author, Endless Forms Most Beautiful and The Making of the Fittest

"In this impressively comprehensive treatment, Potts and Hayden step as far back as possible from the human race to assess the root causes of social upheaval."  —Randy Olson, author and director, Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

"Worth reading, and arguing about."  —The Toronto Star

About the Author

Malcolm Potts, MB, BChir, PhD, FRCOG, is the Bixby Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. A graduate of Cambridge University and trained as an obstetrician and research biologist, his profession has taken him all over the world. Potts led a medical team into Bangladesh immediately after the War of Liberation in 1972, and he has worked in many other war-torn places including Vietnam and Cambodia, Afghanistan, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Liberia, and Angola. His most recent books are Queen Victoria’s Gene and Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality.

Thomas Hayden is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about science, medicine, and culture. Formerly a staff writer at Newsweek and US News & World Report, his articles and reviews have appeared in more than 20 publications, including National Geographic, Nature, and The Washington Post. He is coauthor of On Call in Hell: A Doctor’s Iraq War Story, a 2007 national bestseller. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and fellow writer, Erika Check Hayden.

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Customer Reviews

He did and excellent job.
Great introduction to evolutionary psychology.
I loved this exciting book!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Murphy TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
What's this book about? Let's let co-author Malcom Potts, double doctorate (MD, PhD) obstetrician and research biologist, pose the theme in his own words: "Why do we humans, remarkably social animals with extremely large brains, spend so much energy on one thing---deliberately and systematically killing other members of our own species?" Accessing information from a very broad (if at times disorganized) variety of sources, co-authors Potts, Hayden, and Campbell lay out a scaffolding to address this theme, a scaffolding composed of biological, anthropological, archaeological, and sociological elements.

Laced with potent examples of human on human aggression, (e.g. Maori warriors that first pierce the feet of their women captives so that they can't run away, rape them, then post-coitally murder them), Sex and War is a serious, often engaging, frequently horrifying examination of why the human race is the uncontested champ of same-species killing in the vertebrate world. Linking information drawn from historical, demographic, gender study, and evolutionary biology sources, Potts, Hayden, and Campbell provide a plausible hypothesis for the behavior of Nature's most dangerous gender and animal: the male Homo sapiens.

Sound like sociobiology? You betcha, in fact the father of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson, is frequently referenced, as is Wilson's concept of consilience (a unity of knowledge). If you subscribe to sociobiology, you'll find yourself nodding assent, and uttering an "Aha!" with regularity. If you think that human behavior cannot be at least partially explained by our biological and evolutionary roots, this book will most certainly make you think again.

Do men take a beating in this book? Q.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Donald A. Collins on December 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From: Donald A. Collins

Book Review: Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World" by Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden (Benbella Books,
Dallas, TX 2008)

TEXT: With endorsements high profile people such as Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and world's leading expert on our nearest to human primate, the chimpanzee, one can fully expect to find this book scientifically credible. It is a highly readable must read.

Sex and War will no doubt excite attention from all among the human species who still can read and think. Since that is quite a small minority, my fear is that its urgent and insightful theme will enjoy even among that sliver only an Andy Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Better not!

You may not be surprised to be told that the authors show with solid empirical proof that it is primarily male humans who bring us war, but perhaps you are unaware or unmindful of the driving force of male war making tendencies since the dawn of human history, the sex drive.

British born and Cambridge educated, Dr. Potts, now Bixby Professor at UC Berkeley, an obstetrician and research biologist has pursued his humanitarian work worldwide, including helping women in Bangladesh after the War of Liberation in 1972, then in countless other climes torn by conflicts. I met Malcolm in the 1960's when he was the first Medical Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation in London and since have served on several boards and done many travels with him.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Jerry Haigh on December 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In my opinion Malcolm Potts & Tom Hayden's Sex and War is a must read. The authors have impeccable credentials as authors of this text, Potts as a physician who has worked in many troubles areas of the world and led the drive to give women freedom of reproductive choice many years ago, Hayden as an award winning science writer. The racy title does not fully show the content, which is a very serious look at the whole story of men (not women) and war. Of course women are mentioned at length (almost always as victims), but it is we men that create the problems, and the authors constantly refer back to chimpanzee aggression. This is a serious & disturbing book, but Potts & Hayden do offer glimmers of hope & solutions to prevent the slide into anarchy that we may be facing. The book opens with a chapter on the horrible aftermath of the Bangladesh secession, in which Potts was involved as a physician. He tells us that it may have been the greatest case of mass rape in history. Many other horror stories about war, its combatants and its victims are used to show very clearly how Homo sapiens is destroying its own species and with it, the planet we inhabit. They offer glimpses of hope and solution, but caution that such hope is ephemeral.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The thesis of this book, co-authored by Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden, is summarized thus (Page 2): "This book is about war. It is about terror, and cruelty, and the biological origins and long, brutal, vicious, and destructive history of organized aggression. Perhaps most importantly, it is not just about the depths to which human beings can sink, but also how we came to be this way and what we can do about it."

In short, the book addresses the human nature of violence, why it came about, and what tools might be available to us to reduce the carnage coming from our evolutionary background. Up front, I will simply note that there is not much in this book that is new. Arguments such as this have been around for some time. What is positive about this book is that it is well written and accessible to wider audiences than some of the more academic works. As one example of "déjà vu," Potts and Hayden argue that having more women in positions of power would likely reduce state created warfare and violence. The argument follows from the arguments presented, but Glendon Schubert made a similar argument a decade and a half ago (I did not see Schubert's work mentioned, although I could have missed the relevant footnote--there are over 500, after all!).

The book provides a perspective based on reproductive success being the key to evolutionary change and the understanding of what behaviors any species deploys. Among humans, team aggression (groups of males working together) and reproductive success are linked to make intergroup violence a default option for humans. The book notes the analogy with intergroup violence among Pan troglodytes (the chimpanzee), humankind's closest relatives in nature, further suggesting an evolutionary background to this behavior.
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