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The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226492544
ISBN-10: 0226492540
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Editorial Reviews


“You are now holding a compromise between a book that you should carry hidden inside an opaque bag, and a sober respectable scientific treatise. It′s a deliciously written account of the evolution of sex, in all of its bizarre manifestations. Read, blush, and enjoy!”

(Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel)

“John Long is renowned as the discoverer of the earliest evidence for internal fertilization. In a book encompassing 380 million years of sexual evolution, he lays the full significance of his discoveries in fascinating context.”

(Tim Flannery, author of Here on Earth)

“You know that any book on evolutionary theory that opens with the story of erotic asphyxiation—strangling your sex partner to deplete oxygen to heighten orgasmic intensity—and how even a normal orgasm is so intense as to simulate a mini death through a momentary loss of consciousness at the point of climax, is going to be a great read. And so it is in this marvelously entertaining and remarkably informative book on the evolution of sex by paleontologist John Long, one of the world’s leading experts on teasing out of the fossil record the history of sex over the past several hundred million years. This book is erotica for empiricists.”

(Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine)

“Combining thoughtful science with sheer fun, this book is impossible to put down. . . . John A. Long looks at evidence from the fossil record, examines mating patterns and sexual preferences of living animals, and discusses the attributes of various sexual organs (including the size and speed of ejaculations for males of many species). The book is far from prurient, even though it’s intriguing to hypothesize how 70-ton dinosaurs might have copulated. Long provides great insight into the process of science and makes the compelling case that understanding the history of sexual congress offers incontrovertible documentation of the evolutionary process.”
(Publishers Weekly)

"In this entertaining book, the author traces the evolution of sex, tackling the subject from a paleontological and—to a lesser extent—sociological perspective. The prose is lively and informative, without getting bogged down in tricky terminology or technical discussions only experts would be able to follow; and the book is full of surprising revelations (like the fact that ancient fish copulated male-on-female, rather than spawning in the water as modern fish do)."

"From male guinea pigs that deposit copulatory plugs to hinder competitors, to dust mites which inseminate their partners by stabbing their abdomens, it's impossible to read The Dawn of the Deed without a wry smile or raised eyebrow."
(New Scientist)

“From sharks that mate while doing a headstand on the ocean floor to ducks with enormous corkscrew penises, John Long humorously details the how and why of that funny little act we call sex. At times, the book is a bit heavy on autobiography of his paleontological finds, but that’s more than made up for by copious entertaining anecdotes about things like fruit bat fellatio and necrophilic snakes. Also, two words: T-rex sex.”

“This highly entertaining book remarkably informative book on the evolution of sex Dust mites inseminate their partners by stabbing their abdomens. The Argentine duck’s penis measures a whopping 16.5 inches. Ancient fish copulated male-on-female, rather than spawning in the water as modern fish do. These are a just a few of the revelations in paleontologist John Long’s highly entertaining and informative book on the evolution of sex.”

About the Author

John A. Long is vice president of research and collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. His other books include, most recently, Frozen in Time: Prehistoric Life of Antarctica and The Rise of Fishes.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1st edition (October 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226492540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226492544
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,228,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John L Murphy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The title lured me in, and the subtitle, "The Prehistoric Origins of Sex," seduced me. But, as with an an alluring dress that cloaks a bony body, when I received this title to review, I opened the package to find a surprise. Two dinosaurs, their offending parts with a black bar across their midsections, graced the cover. Opening the book, I learned that it dealt not with the pecadillos of our randy ancestors, nor the lurid rites gleaned from centuries of anthropological adventure, but that it detailed the genitals and mating mechanisms of arthopods, tetrapods, and most of all placoderms--extinct armored fishes.

John A. Long, an Australian paleontologist and naturalist, tells his data-rich tale with verve and aplomb. He integrates his scientific study of his team's "2008 hunt for the world's oldest vertebrate willy" with a diligent account of insect, reptile, amphibian, fish, dinosaur, mammal, primate and, eventually, human stimulation, copulation, and fertilization. His discovery of the earliest evidence for an embryo placed within a female by copulation, rather than egg-laying or another method, shows that 380 million years ago, a bony cartilage tube extended from a male placoderm fish. This, inserted into the large cloacal cavity of the female, then grew more. After four to five minutes, the team calculates, the seminal transfer took place; up to three hundred embryos, Long reminds us, have been found in a later pregnant female equivalent. This safe womb enabled protection of the young from predators.

The ancient results, a fossilized umbilical cord wrapped around an embryonic fish, proved that seminal transfer had occurred successfully for the first time excavated within the body of an organism.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Note - This review was first published in my blog: baldscientist.wordpress.com

This was a very fun book to read, but not for the reasons you may think, based on the title. Yes, the book is about sex, but the story is mainly told from the perspective of paleontology. You just have to admire the special ability of a true expert. From my point of view of a paleontology layman, it is absolutely remarkable how the author and collaborators were able to reconstruct the probable history of the oldest embryo from delicate fossils, by painstakingly assembling delicate skeletons and interpreting what they saw. Further, he extended the narrative well beyond just fossils, he went all the way to aspects of molecular and developmental biology.

The book is liberally "sprinkled" with interesting anectdotes taken from the history of science and the writing style is easy to follow and very funny at times. Lots of puns too... I really cannot say that I disliked any part of the book. However, at times he wrote things that made me uncomfortable because they sounded a tad homophobic especially if you read between the lines, but when I kept reading I understood the points that he was trying to make, but only, again, because I kept reading. So, if you,are taken aback by such things, by all means keep reading.

Other reviews that I have seen express some dissapointment for not including more material on humans. Not me. I pretty much know what to expect in such matters. And, anyway, based on the Epilogue, I am entirely sure that Dr. Long is already working on a continuation of the book.

In summary, great job!!!!
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Format: Hardcover
Where did sex as we know it come from? As paleontologist John A. Long explains, it popped up, so to speak, in the placoderms, armored fish of 380 million years ago. Long traces the topic from his discovery of odd little structures on an Australian fossil he named Materpisces (mother fish). Sex emerged as a way to more reliably pass along genes, and eventually to bond in some species, as opposed to the original vertebrate strategy of dumping sperm and egg into the water and swimming off to do something else. It's a bit odd that copulation developed in fishes whose bony plating could only have complicated matters. I wondered how my favorite prehistoric creature, the orca-sized Dunkleosteus terrelli, managed the feat while carrying a half-ton of armor. Long explains that, as the pladoderms developed modified fin rays into organs called claspers (still seen in modern skates and rays), they became long enough to get around the armor problem. It still wasn't easy: claspers have often been seemingly painful things for females to endure, and the claspers in at least some placoderms only pointed toward the tail. This means sex was done in a position where the female was essentially being shoved into the seafloor. Long continues his readable (if sometimes a bit technically worded) account through the problems of dinosaur sex (some people wondered what would happen to your blood pressure if you're having sex with your head several stories above the action) to such modern oddities as the penis of the Argentine duck, which is longer than its body. This is, above all else, a scientific detective story, as Long and his collegues go through painstaking field work and fossil cleaning punctuated by "Eureka" moments and ending with Long explaining fossil fish sex to the Queen of England (she listened politely).Read more ›
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