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Death & Sex Hardcover – October 13, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this back-to-back double essay (flip it one way, it's Death by Volk, flip it the other way, it's Sex by Sagan), two curious scientist-philosophers ponder the relationship between mortality and the chain of being. Sagan (Notes from the Holocene), the co-director of Chelsea Green's science imprint, takes a romp through evolution beginning with a neatly detached definition of sexual reproduction: "the formation of new individuals from the genes of at least two different sources." Taking a playful run with a serious theory, Sagan doesn't skimp on trivia ("an estrous chimp may mate with sixty males in a day"; "the oldest ejaculation in the fossil record" is between 363 and 409 million years old, etc.) while pursuing vital ideas on the relationship between gene mixing and evolution. On the other end, biologist Volk (head of NYU's environmental studies track) presents a luminous essay on the way death is integral to life, the importance of each person's "cultural knot," and how "biogeochemical cycles" create "a personal form of immortality": "my chemicals will circulate in the biosphere and become clouds and oceans and many wondrous creatures." Though dissimilar, the essays share an off-center view of evolution that should be of special interest to those who enjoy pondering the alpha and omega of life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Publishers Weekly-

In this back-to-back double essay (flip it one way, it’s Death by Volk, flip it the other way, it’s Sex by Sagan), two curious scientist-philosophers ponder the relationship between mortality and the chain of being. Sagan (Notes from the Holocene), the co-director of Chelsea Green’s science imprint, takes a romp through evolution beginning with a neatly detached definition of sexual reproduction: “the formation of new individuals from the genes of at least two different sources.” Taking a playful run with a serious theory, Sagan doesn’t skimp on trivia (“[an] estrous chimp may mate with sixty males in a day”; “the oldest ejaculation in the fossil record” is between 363 and 409 million years old, etc.) while pursuing vital ideas on the relationship between gene mixing and evolution. On the other end, biologist Volk (head of NYU’s environmental studies track) presents a luminous essay on the way death is integral to life, the importance of each person’s “cultural knot,” and how “biogeochemical cycles” create “a personal form of immortality”: “my chemicals will circulate in the biosphere and become clouds and oceans and many wondrous creatures.” Though dissimilar, the essays share an off-center view of evolution that should be of special interest to those who enjoy pondering the alpha and omega of life.

New Scientist-

WHAT could be more alluring than a book about sex? How about a book about sex that, when flipped over, is also a book about death? In this two-for-one, biologist Tyler Volk and writer Dorion Sagan tackle two of the most important processes in the human experience. They touch on their respective subjects' fundamental importance to human history, while the book's format shows how the two are interconnected.

In Death, Volk investigates the biology of death across species and revisits death rituals throughout human history. Surprisingly, Volk's presentation serves as a reassuring affirmation of life, painting death as just another stage in an ever-repeating evolutionary cycle. In Sex, Sagan revels in covering what is clearly his favourite subject in a series of digressions, with playful prose that slips effortlessly from the complications of fertilisation to the widespread misconceptions relating to Marquis de Sade's lascivious nature.

In this single compact volume, the two subjects are presented with many delightful touches and details that put our carnal desire and our mortality into surprising perspective.

"In a mere 90 pages, Tyler Volk’s book Death brilliantly depicts the biology and psychology of its subject, putting death in proper perspective as an integral component of the life cycle. I’ve read many insightful books about death, but if I were to recommend one book to help someone come to terms with death, this would be it."--Jeff Greenberg, Director of the Social Psychology Program, Unversity of Arizona



"Dorion Sagan muses ruthlessly on the topic of sex and the result is as twisted and tangled as a set of bed sheets. Hyena sex, cycad sex, lots of primate sex, and even a digression on why the Marquis de Sade was not such a bad guy: Sagan takes pleasure in revealing it all. He even makes bacterial sex sound fun. Tyler Volk succeeds in translating everything of the natural world with generous poetic details, from tree-filled landscapes to star systems, as one or another version of death. We humans are by-products of carbon dioxide from dead photosynthesizers, yet Volk manages to make even this a fact well worth celebrating." -Betsey Dyer, Professor of Biology, Wheaton College, author of A Field Guide to Bacteria

"In just 100 pages, everything you really need to know about sex: Why? When? Where? With whom? Dorion Sagan slides effortlessly from seductive prose to bringing the reader sharp up against one astonishing scientific discovery after another." -Denis Noble, Professor Emeritus of Physiology, Oxford University, Fellow of the Royal Society, and author of The Music of Life

"Dorion Sagan and Tyler Volk show us sex is optional and death is necessary, turning the tables on our lusts and fears, our origins and endings, in a surprisingly enticing way." -Adam Daniel Stulberg, Poetic Interconnections

"Sex is the koan we can't stop from coming. Sagan shows us just how deep the riddle of sex goes--pulsing through the world from the Marquis de Sade's plays right down to the bacteria that make up our cells. This slim book allows us to be voyeurs and exhibitionists: Read about the sex lives of others and the other lives of sex to examine yourself. Whether you end up resonating more readily with the puritanical tendencies of the orangutans or with the orgiastic culture of the bonobo chimps, Dorion Sagan's Sex will provide a hilarious, thoughtful, and unforgettable time. It's more fun than my day job." -Conner Habib, adult-film actor and writer

"A boisterous Siamese twin of a book which looks at the two sides of the same molecular process: that of sex, and that of death, within the framework of life almost eternal. Enjoy, and know you are part of it."--Crispin Tickell, Director of the Policy Foresight Programme, Oxford University, former Warden of Green College, Oxford University, and former British Ambassador to the United Nations

"What delicious writing and reading! I love this wise and funny big-little book." -Erica Jong, iconic author of numerous bestselling works of fiction, poetry and essays

"This champagne cocktail of exploration and insight, not to forget the murkier passions of lust, or the despondency that comes from unrequited love, abandonment, or loss--what an inspired confection of two immensities, sex and death. I genuinely can’t recall reading a more inspiring or entertaining book in years!"--Frank Ryan,MD, author of Virolution and Darwin's Blind Spot


Product details

  • Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
  • Hardcover : 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 160358143X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1603581431
  • Product Dimensions : 5.51 x 1.02 x 8.5 inches
  • Publisher : Chelsea Green Publishing; 0th Edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.0 out of 5 stars 21 ratings