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The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People Paperback – May 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (May 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805071369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805071368
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #637,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Shattering deeply held beliefs about sexual relationships in humans and other animals, The Myth of Monogamy is a much needed treatment of a sensitive issue. Written by the husband and wife team of behavioral scientist David P. Barash and psychiatrist Judith Eve Lipton, it glows with wit and warmth even as it explores decades of research undermining traditional precepts of mating rituals. Evidence from genetic testing has been devastating to those seeking monogamy in the animal kingdom; even many birds, long prized as examples of fidelity, turn out to have a high incidence of extra-pair couplings. Furthermore, now that researchers have turned their attention to female sexual behavior, they are finding more and more examples of aggressive adultery-seeking in "the fairer sex." Writing about humans in the context of parental involvement, the authors find complexity and humor:

Baby people are more like baby birds than baby mammals. To be sure, newborn cats and dogs are helpless, but this helplessness doesn't last for long. By contrast, infant Homo sapiens remain helpless for months ... and then they become helpless toddlers! Who in turn graduate to being virtually helpless youngsters. (And then? Clueless adolescents.) So there may be some payoff to women in being mated to a monogamous man, after all.

Careful to separate scientific description from moral prescription, Barash and Lipton still poke a little fun at our conceptions of monogamy and other kinds of relationships as "natural" or "unnatural." Shoring themselves up against the inevitable charges that their reporting will weaken the institution of marriage, they make sure to note that monogamy works well for most of those who desire it and that one of our uniquely human traits is our ability to overcome biology in some instances. If, as some claim, monogamy has been a tool used by men to assert property rights over women, then perhaps one day The Myth of Monogamy will be seen as a milestone for women's liberation. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

Monogamists, this husband-wife team says, "are going against some of the deepest-seated evolutionary inclinations with which biology has endowed most creatures, Homo sapiens included." Barash, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, and Lipton, a psychiatrist, note how rare monogamy is in the animal kingdom. One could not have been so sure about humans until the advent of DNA fingerprinting, which makes it possible to "specify, with certainty, whether a particular individual is or is not the parent." And a "key point" is that women as well as men stray from monogamous relationships. The argument leads one inevitably to ask why monogamy exists at all and why human societies show such concern about it. Barash and Lipton suggest that it may occur as a means for males to minimize the risk "that someone else's sperm will fertilize the eggs of a given female" and that society's many strictures against adultery arise because monogamy is not automatic "but needs to be enforced and reinforced."

Editors of Scientific American --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Customer Reviews

I think the book is a very good read if you're at all interested in the topic.
Trevor Goodchild
Overall, the book is rather tedious and repetitious and ultimately disappoints if for no other reason than its misleading title.
J. Grattan
Open-minded individuals will love this well-written, accessible research and explanation of human and animal sexual patterns.
Graham D. Lincoln

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on February 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Keep that notion in mind as you follow the authors on their marvelous tour of sexual behaviour in all nature. Most of us were raised with the notion that humans "must" be monogamous. Often, animals such as swans or foxes were held up as examples to emulate. Barash and Lipton expose the hollow basis of these examples. The notion of human monogamy becomes a fragile ideal - nature, and we are part of nature, is anything but monogamous. In a book combining solid science and entertaining prose, this pair have produced an informal, but information-packed review of new finds in the sexual behaviour of a wealth of species.
One small flaw must be dealt with first - sexual behaviour studies must retreat from overuse of the poor screw-worm fly. The authors cannot resist numerous word plays on the poor creature's name. As the subject of an early attempt at controlling pest populations, the screw-worm fly initiated the host of studies of sexual behaviour among animals. Barash and Lipton describe sterilization of this insect as largely successful, reducing its population significantly. Screw-
worm flies are monogamous, which reinforced the notion as predominant in nature. However, a 1970s groundbreaking paper indicated monogamy might not be universal in animals. From that start a wealth of new studies demonstrated that it was monogamy that was rare, not the reverse. The screw-worm fly turned out to be a rare exception to the rule, and the basis of comparison for the later research.
Bowing to the expected abuse of "anthropomorphising" biology, the authors eschew "adultry" in favour of EPC [Extra Pair Copulation] in describing the common practice in nature. They show the distinction between "social" and "sexual" pairing.
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62 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Garret on February 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
What I mean by "Truth is revealed, the choice is ours", is the theme of this review. It is also the message in the book, although many readers have misinterpreted the entire theme, believing the co-authors, David P. Barash and Judith E. Lipton, are simply feeding us hard reality and crushing dreams of blissful and faithful marriage. David and Judith are experienced, older scientists, specializing in the observation of birds and apes, with a profound understanding of logic, human emotions, sociobiology and biology in general. They both hold high degrees- Judith has an M.D. and David holds a Ph.D. It is noteworthy, also, that they are a happily married couple and have been so for many years. Their real message and theme from this outstanding book is that although by nature, humans are generally not faithful to their long-term mate (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend), we have evolved so much that we can chose to be faithful and monogamous to our partner and truly be satisfied, fulfilled and completely happy. Monogamy is not extinct, it is rare. Half of all marriages end in divorce. When a couple has been together for many years, it's world news. It is the greatest partnership, relationship, union, and the most peaceful, happiest and fullest feeling. But it is always the individual's choice. If a partner cannot remain faithful, we now have a reason and explanation for it.
The reason why so many find it difficult to be faithful to their partner for a long time, is biological. Originally, before an evolved society with its ground rules grew from primitive communism, the homo sapien men were polygamous, especially because genetically, nature demanded variety from their offspring.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By reason on July 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Monogamy is a sensitive, yet alluring, subject from both a biological and sociological standpoint. Ever since the founding of sociobiology by people like Edward Wilson, scientists (among many others) have been intrigued by the thought of just how dominant our genetic code is with respect to our behavior, as compared to the dominance of society's enforcement of it's contrived morals. Wilson once stated that culture is on a leash held by Genes, and one could claim equally that our genes are on a leash held by society. This book is a delightfully written perspective that deals with the intersection of those two powers in a way that is both enlightened and nonjudgemental.
The authors give an excellent review of how genetic fingerprinting has dispelled the here-to-fore assumed monagamy of a host of different animal species, and quote a number of respectable studies in the process. The astounding and outstanding result is the realization of just how rare it is to find any animal species that is totally monogamous in nature, and humans are animals that happen to not be totally monogamous---by their very "nature". This begs the question "is adultery therefore natural, and hence forgivable?" Will Durant once adressed this issue by noting that many of our current vices were once indispensable virtues in the struggle for survival, and in keeping with this observation, it would seem reasonable to posit the idea that humans havent had enough time to evolve biologically or culturally beyond certain genetic features that have outlived their primal usefulness, and yet continue to stubbornly hang on--despite societal taboos. "Myth of Monogamy" is a book that helps to highlight that struggle without presuming to tell the reader what their ultimate conclusions should be.
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