- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (August 2, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 015101373X
- ISBN-13: 978-0151013739
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 29 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,043,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World 1st Edition
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Sex on Six Legs "waxes exuberant [on insects] over nine consistently delightful chapters... [Zuk is] wry, mischievous and conversational. The book can be unsettling at times, but it persistently aroused in this reviewer a wriggling, six-legs-up delight."
--New York Times Book Review
"Smart, engaging...Zuk approaches her subject with such humor and enthusiasm for the intricacies of insect life, even bug-phobes will relish her account."
- Publishers Weekly, starred
-Booklist"A global sampling of the clever lives and loves of our six-legged friends. Zuk's chapters, particularly on social insects, are rich in examples... Plenty of intriguing questions to ponder as Zuk informs adults in a droll style that may also turn on younger readers. After all, entomology is still a field that can begin, as it did for her, with venturing into the yard to collect stuff in a glass jar."
-Kirkus Reviews"Incest, democracy, tyranny, sexual cannibalism: insects have them all, and more. In Sex on Six Legs, Marlene Zuk gives insects, the animal kingdom's unseen majority, their full, marvelous due."
-Carl Zimmer, author of The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution and A Planet of Viruses
From the Inside Flap
Insects are capable of incredibly complex behavior, despite having brains often the size of a poppy seed. How do they accomplish feats that look like human activity—expressing personality, using language, nurturing their offspring—via completely different pathways from our own? What if anything, might our own large brains might be for, if the world’s smallest animals seem equally adept at performing complex tasks?
Sex on Six Legs is a startling and exciting book that provides answers to these questions and many more. Zuk, a writer praised as “thought-provoking and sublimely witty” (The Boston Globe), uses her decades of research on insects to illuminate the unheralded capabilities of a variety of astoundingly accomplished species. She offers us a glimpse of the parenting techniques of the earwig, a thorough examination of the high-stakes world of ant warfare, and the intriguing possibilities of personality in wasps.
Gracefully written, deeply learned, and wonderfully eye-opening, Sex on Six Legs opens a window on the fascinating, weird world populated by the innumerable insects around us.
Top customer reviews
The introduction illustrates the importance of insects not only to human existence, but to human understanding as well. By studying creatures so completely different from ourselves, we can come to knowledge that is not possible otherwise. By setting aside the anthropomorphism Zuk indicates is inherent in virtually all vertebrate study, we can truly look at life from a new perspective. And what do we find when we do so? "It is possible to be unselfish without a moral code, sophisticated without an education, and beautiful wearing a skeleton on the outside." Though one could argue that latter is subjective, her point is certainly well made.
She also makes the case for insects as both mirror and window to the human condition. They are mirrors in that they exhibit a lot of the same behavior: animal husbandry, language, social hierarchies and learning. However, she adds, they do all of those things without the benefit of the advanced hardware that the vertebrate brain offers, as well as missing the software of the pituitary system and hormones so important in humans. Insects are windows because of those differences. One of the points she returns to again and again is that insects make for great study subjects because we aren't them.
Another ongoing theme throughout the book is the "obsession" by humans to guarantee ourselves a club of one, and only one, member. For each trait that was presumed to be unique to humanity (personality, language, the ability to learn) that has been observed in the insect world, scientists seem to get a case of the "yeah buts", in order to prove why it is not really. Barring that, the list for admission continues to add new criteria, though she also points out that "one can detect a certain desperation in resorting to homicidal violence as a badge of distinction."
The different chapters investigate different aspects of insect life, anything from education to parenting to the altruism of ants. Do insects have personalities? Yes, Zuk argues and here's how that benefits them and us. She also has a chapter on the one topic about which she is asked most frequently, "Two Fruit Flies Walk into a Bar..."
In the final chapter, "Six-Legged Language", she describes language studies.
Overall, Sex on Six Legs is a thoroughly enjoyable book. Though she emphasizes certain themes almost to the point of redundancy (i.e., the evils of anthropomorphism and the human club of one, or that insects make great subjects of study) she also tenders a great deal of evidence for why this is so. This is a book that is certainly aimed more towards a popular audience than a scientific one, but she does not assume that audience is unintelligent. Nor does she assume the audience can't take a joke, as she does spend a fair bit of time with her tongue firmly planted in cheek. It is certainly a great introduction to ethology for the lay reader and has the potential to change minds about the fascination of insects.
Like many pop science books, the organization is a little haphazard - the primary focus is on ease of reading, so it's not arranged as clearly as textbooks or reference books are. I also thought the book could benefit from some diagrams, especially when talking about the sex-determination system: a picture would have helped me understand why exactly a worker bee is more closely related to her sisters than to her own potential offspring.
Overall though, this was a fun and educational book, a great example of the pop science category.