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3.7 out of 5 stars
Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior.
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on January 15, 2000
Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior, by Bobbi Low, is a must read for ANYONE interested in animal behavior, human or otherwise. This is an in depth look through the eyes of an evolutionary biologist at why our world is the way it is, and more importantly, why we humans are the way we are.
With a thesis that could be subtitled: "Sex, Power and Resources," the book is principally about the ecology of sex differences - the conditions under which we predict male and female behavior to be more, and less, alike. Low points out (chapters 1-3) that [1] we seldom actually know the genetics of any trait, and [2] mostly what we do is ask: what strategies succeed reproductively in particular environments?
In chapters 4-15 she offers a tour de force of the selective pressures that have created the complex behavior of such a species as ours. The exploration of the evolutionary basis for our systems of mate selection, politics, war, cooperation, and resource accumulation make Why Sex Matters such an important book.
This book is highly readable, with dozens of tales, quotes and legends that help tie it to the heart of the human condition, but its strength is in leaving myth behind and explaining behavior through the science of ecology.
I found the book fascinating and will gladly place it on the same shelf as E.O.Wilson's, On Human Nature, Richard Dawkin's, The Blind Watchmaker, and Jared Diamond's, Guns, Germs & Steel.
Thane Maynard, Director of Education, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
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on April 12, 2002
Although a talented scientist, Bobbi Low is not a talented writer. This is a great book for those with some foreknowledge of the subjects of sex and evolutionary psychology, but it might be a little obtuse for the casual reader. Her writing style is somewhat stilted and dry, and she quite often assumes the reader is familiar with prior studies and concepts that are germaine to her point, without explaining those concepts, or at best doing so very obliquely. There is a wealth of information here, though, for those willing to decipher what she's saying.
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on August 29, 2015
The currency of survival is concisely proffered by Bobbi Low as made of who reproduces best. Each sex has been successful as the result of dissimilar behaviors that result from genetic and environmental differences.
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on July 20, 2003
Basically, I'm of much the same opinion as most of the other reviewers. It's a thoroughly fascinating book, which actually looks at human behavior as it should be seen: the ecology and interactions of highly inteligent, highly communicate, mostly bald apes. Well worth the read. That said, I must say that without at least some background knowledge in evolutionary biology, you'll find it tough to digest. But such is the way of scientific works, and, frankly, I prefer it as is, rather than loaded down with explanations of things I already know from my classes.
Definitely a book worth not only read, but keeping around as a reference.
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on January 19, 2016
Quality as expected, thanks!
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on July 29, 2013
I liked that this book came in good condition, and as expected. Good insight from many anthropologists on how human behavior differs between the male and female sexes.
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on June 28, 2010
Title says it all, really. The only reason I'm not mad about it is because it was so cheap on Amazon. I was also able to sell it back to the book store (for like $1. CHACHING)
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on May 27, 2000
I've been reading a lot about evolutionary psychology and theory lately, and many of the books I've read cite Bobbi Low as an important resource. And she does indeed explore some important differences between males and females and how these 'play out' in real life. The concepts of resource gathering vs. nurturing vs. reproductive potential are vital to an understanding of the differences - and similarities - between the sexes. She uses graphs and photographs to illustrate some of her points, which is helpful indeed.
My one criticism - and it's more of a comment, really - is that I found this book less accessible than the others I've read on the subject. Had I not previously read at least six books on this topic, I might have had a hard time both getting 'into' the book and understanding some of what she talks about, despite the lengths she goes to explain it. She writes in a very straight-forward, scientific voice, which, while clear, is at times off-putting.
All in all, however, this is a fascinating book and contributes a great deal to the ongoing discussion of how evolution has affected sex differences and how these differences are relevant in modern society. She also explores how modern society is changing the relevance of some of these evolutionary strategies. I would definitely recommend this book highly, with the caveat that it is probably best for those with some familiarity of the subject.
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on October 28, 2013
This book covers some important material and presents it in a way that sheds light where others left shadows. I like her description of the origin of a number of key sex differences in the egg and sperm simulation. Unfortunately, like so many female writers, she fails to hide her feminist prejudice. Thus she hopes that despite the over 100,000 years it took to create the male and female brains and endocrine systemsa, if our sociey works at it, perhaps a few generations they can create the feminist dream of a unisex society. As a scientist and researcher myself I find her attitude to run counter not only to scientific objectivity but as well to human rights. As Steven Pinker pointed out, the view that sex is a mere role substitutes ideology for science. He proposes that that view puts human nature on a bidding block to be sold as a slave to ideology. Yet in works such as Low's and that of Deborah Blum (Sex on the Brain), that is occuring in the guise of biology.
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HALL OF FAMEon December 9, 2000
This book is not as formidable a reading challenge as might be supposed on first perusal. True it is 412 pages long, but the back matter begins with the footnotes on page 258. There follows a glossary, a 57-page bibliography, an author index and a subject index. Also, even though this is clearly an academic tome written by a professional ecologist who is not about to compromise her standing in the scientific community for a shot at popular success, Professor Low nonetheless employs a readable and common sense approach with a minimum of unnecessary jargon. Furthermore, what she has to say is exciting and relevant to our lives, and we can see that she cares as much about communicating to the reader as she does about pleasing colleagues. Reading Why Sex Matters is consequently one very engaging experience.

Low, who is a professor of ecology at the University of Michigan, assumes the point of view of an evolutionary biologist as she asks the question, how are men and women different and why? She is particularly focused on how the sexes differentially use resources to further reproduction, and asks which behaviors are ephemeral, due to present conditions, and which are more enduring, having proven adaptive over longer periods of time and in differing environments. She faces squarely the unsettling feeling that some people get when they contemplate humans purely as biological entities--or "critters," to use her expression. As she tells us in the preface, there are three themes guiding her work: One, "resources are useful in...survival and reproduction"; two, "the sexes...differ in how they...use resources"; and three, "each sex accomplishes these ends" by reacting to the environment differently. The result of this structured approach is a clear introductory course in sexuality from an evolutionary point of view, and a fascinating read.

Because Low employs resources from a wide variety of disciplines, including sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, ecology, anthropology, sociology, biology, history, etc., not to mention pop culture and world literature, her work is highly persuasive in a scientific sense. And because she studiously avoids squabbling among the disciplines, her work is psychologically compelling. There is material on cultural transmissions as well as natural selection. Demographers are given currency along with evolutionary biologists. One gets the sense that she has read just about everything and has thoroughly evaluated what she has read. Particular interesting to me is her discussion of the tangled origins of sexuality and the (non-obvious) nature of altruism. The chapters on warfare, "Sex, Resources, and Early Warfare," and "The Ecology of Warfare" are worth the price of the book alone. There we see that women warriors are rare because men can gain reproductive advantage through warfare but women cannot (p. 216). Low suggests that war may be an example of "runaway sexual selection" and its practitioners may have become "unhooked" from the old reproductive rewards, but that the proximate rewards remain. Low soberly faces the prospect of future warfare when small groups of people may acquire monstrous weapons, noting that "given a short-term gain...versus an unspecifiable risk of nuclear the future, we do not predict restraint."

It should be clear that Low is a professional academician and not a journalist, as some popular writers on evolution are (Matt Ridley and Robert Wright, to name two of the best), and as such careful about her assertions. She doesn't espouse pet theories that may be overturned tomorrow; but she isn't afraid to voice her opinion. To give you a sense of her careful style, note the stunning qualification in the parenthetical in this statement from page 217 (and the sly irony): "Human war can become more complex and varied than intergroup aggression in other species, largely as a result of the development of technology (which itself is probably a product of intelligence)." Probably, indeed!

In the chapter on "Politics and Reproduction" we learn that men seek political power for reproductive gain (p. 211) but in the modern nation state may have to settle for proximate gains (which may be an irony not lost on Bill Clinton). Women, however, can gain little or no reproductive advantage directly for themselves, which may be the reason there are relatively few women in the top positions of political power in most human societies.

Some of this I admit is tough going. The material on "The Group Selection Muddle" in Chapter Nine is still muddled in my mind, and I couldn't figure out the point of the Summary of Selection Theories (Table 9.1 on pages 156-157). But evolution and the disciplines that address human behavior are complex, in some ways, deceptively so.

Professor Low is wise, temperate, thorough and more objective than seems possible in such a vibrant and contentious academic field. I suspect that this book started out as an undergraduate text, but somewhere along the line those reading the manuscript realized that it was so interesting and valuable that it could be published as a trade book aimed at a general readership. If you have time to read only one book on human nature, read this one. You will learn more than you would from half a dozen "popular" expositions, and you will have a sense of having learned something important and valuable. I wish I knew what is in this book when I was one and twenty. I would have conducted my life with a lot more grace and effectiveness.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Understanding Evolution and Ourselves"
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