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Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men Kindle Edition

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Length: 338 pages
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Editorial Reviews


"A hard-hitting, eye-opening study that not only paints a dire future of a world without girls but traces the West's role in propagating sex selection."
--Kirkus Reviews

"This is a book about whole nations wounded by sex selection. Mara Hvistendahl...describes a history we would be wise to learn from." --Xinran, author of Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother and Sky Burial

"Yes, it's a rigorous exploration of the world's 'missing women,' but it's more than that too: an extraordinarily vivid look at the implications of the problem." 
----Stephen J. Dubner, author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics

From the Inside Flap

In 2007, the booming port city of Lianyungang achieved the dubious distinction of having the most extreme gender ratio for children under five in China: 163 boys for every 100 girls. The numbers may not matter much to the preschool set. But in twenty years the skewed sex ratio will pose a colossal challenge. When Lianyungang's children reach adulthood, their generation will have twenty-four million more men than women. 

The prognosis for China's neighbors is no less bleak: rampant sex selective abortion has left over 160 million females "missing" from Asia's population. And gender imbalance reaches far beyond South and East Asia, affecting the Caucasus countries, Eastern Europe, and even some groups in the United States --a rate of diffusion so rapid that the leading expert on the topic compares it to an epidemic. As economic development spurs parents in developing countries to have fewer children and brings them access to sex determination technology, couples are making sure at least one of their children is a son. So many parents now select for boys that they have skewed the sex ratio at birth of the entire world.

Sex selection did not arise on its own. Largely unknown until now is that the sex ratio imbalance is partly the work of a group of 1960s American activists and scientist who zealously backed the use of prenatal technologies in their haste to solve an earlier global problem. 

What does this mean for our future? The sex ratio imbalance has already led to a spike in sex trafficking and bride buying across Asia, and it may be linked to a recent rise in crime there as well. More far-reaching problems could be on the horizon: From ancient Rome to the American Wild West, historical excesses of men have yielded periods of violence and instability. Traveling to nine countries, Mara Hvistendahl has produced a stunning, impeccably researched book that examines not only the consequences of the misbegotten policies underlying sex selection but also the West's role in creating them.

Product Details

  • File Size: 712 KB
  • Print Length: 338 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; Reprint edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Publication Date: June 7, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004ZGRPH6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,756 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Mara Hvistendahl is an award-winning writer and journalist specialized in the intersection of science, culture, and policy. A correspondent for Science magazine, she has also written for Harper's, Scientific American, Popular Science, The Financial Times, Foreign Policy, and other publications. Proficient in both Spanish and Chinese, she has spent half of the past decade in China, reporting on everything from archaeology to Beijing's space program. Unnatural Selection is her first book.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By dear reader on June 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mara Hvistendahl's story of the worldwide horror of gender selection favoring baby boys is riveting. She has clearly traveled the globe to reach tiny rural pockets where this abuse thrives as well as its corollary issues of sex trafficking and bride buying for the generation of men coming of age with far fewer women to pair off with. The stories of the people affected are moving in a very human way, but her scope extends far beyond that to the complicated political history that engendered this problem, which involves the US in ways that are quite shocking. And she delves into the complex issues arising from a young, single male-dominated society, such as the one that flourished in the American frontier. This is a very thoughtful, multifaceted, and compelling book.
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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful By A Reader from LA on July 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The book was often one sided and superficial. I have no doubt that sex selection, male or female, is unethical and fraught with negative consequences, as partially outlined by Hvistendahl. I agree that it should be outlawed internationally, and that better enforcement of existing laws is essential. However, clearly there is more to reversing this phenomenon than simply making it illegal and punishing those involved. We need to address the reasons that boys are preferred in the first place. Hvistendahl did not offer a clear explanation for why parents prefer boys to girls in societies around the world and what we can do to increase the value of women. To me, that is the obvious solution.

The research was often lacking. I was left with more questions than answers. For example, I wonder what the fate would be of millions of unwanted children (girls). For the women who were sold into arranged marriages, what was their alternative? What would their lives have been like otherwise? Some idea of the other side would have been helpful.

I also wonder how much truth there is to the statement that "After years of penalties for out-of-quota births, incentivized sterilizations, and forced abortions, Korean women had finally given in and stopped having children." That seems like an overly simplified explanation for a much more complex social phenomenon. Births rates have fallen to similar levels in many countries without those forces at play. The birth rate in the Ukraine currently is 1.12 children per woman and in Greece 1.25 children per woman; these countries are historically and culturally different from each other and from South Korea.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jacqueline Phillips on January 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
What the author covered in this book she covered well. But I found the finger pointing irritating. MH spends a lot of time blaming the West for choices made in the East. Nobody told China or India to destroy their women. They were given the tools and 'encouraged' to control their population growth by various agencies but sex selection in favour of sons and the consequences thereof are all their own doing. It's like saying 'you are to blame for the house burning down because you gave the child matches to play with'. But we aren't talking about children and we should not demean either China or India by absolving them for choices they made or allowed by apportioning the blame elsewhere. My biggest problem with the book was with the subtitle 'the consequences of a world full of men'. This was so lightly touched upon and hardly covered at all. What will be the consequences of living in a world full of men? I bought and read the book for this very reason and I have come away as ignorant on the subject as I was before I read it. What does the author think the consequences of a world full of surplus men will be on the world stability and world economics? I did read the chapters about trafficking, buying poor, uneducated wives and prostitution. I just don't think that really covers the question of long term consequences globally in an adequate manner. Will there be long term consequences globally and if there are what will they be? I feel the title promised to answer this question and came nowhere near broaching it.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By David L. Danielson on June 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What is the result when combining the genes of journalism and literature? Answer: Mara Hvistendahl. Her first book, Unnatural Selection, is investigative journalism at its best introducing the reader to a world-wide problem with dire yet unimaginable consequences. The mined data than soars to the heights of literature as the reader accompanies the author on the back of a motor scooter into the Mekong Delta to visit with parents who have sold a daughter to be the wife of a stranger and maybe his brothers as well. The book is creating more than a stir as people come to grips with well intentioned but unforeseen consequences of the past. It is a book that won't be forgotten. Mara has emerged on the literary stage as an author whose further offerings are already eagerly awaited.
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32 of 42 people found the following review helpful By ShanMeilan79 on June 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The breadth and depth of research, the complex nuance of the argument and the stunning writing make this book one of the best non-fiction works I've read in years. It also demonstrates what long-form narrative journalism may achieve when given the space and resources to do so.
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