- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: W. H. Freeman; 1st edition (May 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0716740044
- ISBN-13: 978-0716740049
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,273,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People Hardcover – May 1, 2001
The Amazon Book Review
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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
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
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The key question about this book is the relevance of sexual behavior among all other animals to us. The behavior of animals is all "natural" and has evolved to ensure the reproduction of the species. Of course, humans are too natural creatures, but we, with our immense brains, have an immense capacity for learning and establishing highly complex social systems with all kinds of enforcement mechanisms, both subtle and direct. Certainly, in Western societies, marriage and monogamy are the only socially permitted relationships, regardless of any biological inclinations for multiple partners.
While the authors find that monogamy is, for the most part, a myth, they actually do not advocate a turn from monogamy for Western cultures, recognizing the immense gains of societies under that system. On the other hand, adultery becomes somewhat more understandable. They do not make any suggestions concerning how open, non-monogamous Western societies could or would work. Overall, the book is rather tedious and repetitious and ultimately disappoints if for no other reason than its misleading title.
This book is an examination of the sexual practices of a wide variety of species of animals, including humans. The book concludes that there are significant evolutionary advantages to non-monogamous sexual relationships and there seem to be very clear bodily adaptations that evolved because of this. These points are just not arguable in good faith.
The book doesn't draw any conclusions about the "naturalness" of monogomy except that it is rare, because that discussion is metaphysics at best; the religious among us use "natural" as a proxy for "our interpretation of gods will" or "how we think society ought to be". We live in a dangerous age where people are willing to deny the truth as it suits them. We have a duty as rational beings to accept objective truth no matter how unpalatable.
I think the book is a very good read if you're at all interested in the topic. I did not however find the writing style very interesting, and I had trouble keeping track of the many many types of animals discussed and their various traits. I also felt the conclusion was far too apologetic towards current societal beliefs and a bit simple minded. Nevertheless, a good read if you're interested in the subject.
Parting from this point the authors brilliantly try to sort what is biological (biochemical, hormonal and electrical) genetically imposed behavior. Sadly, many of our behavior that religions and society have told us that are sinful or illegal are ingrained in our genes and in our biology. The book is provocative and invites the reader to ponder about our behavior.
This is a book worth reading, which will help you understand yourself and you significant other!
Though provoking. Sometimes shocking. I'll never be able to look at a mallard the same way again.
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